WASHINGTON, DC— Families of servicemembers who commit suicide will now receive condolence letters from the President, just as families of troops who die in combat or of other service-related injuries currently do.
This reversal of a long-standing White House policy was announced by President Obama last month.
The policy for sending presidential condolences to military families had previously been very clear. If a servicemember died in combat, or as a result of non-combat incidents in a war zone, family members would receive a condolence letter from the White House. If the servicemember committed suicide, either at home or in theater, no letter was received.
A handful of military families have been lobbying for this policy to change, and the White House has been reviewing it since 2009.
“Since taking office, I’ve been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war,” Obama said in a statement. “This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly. This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”
In a post on the White House website, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff, applauded the policy change. “The greatest regret of my military career was as Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq in 2004-05. I lost 169 soldiers during that year-long deployment. However, the monument we erected at Fort Hood, Texas in memoriam lists 168 names. I approved the request of others not to include the name of the one soldier who committed suicide. I deeply regret my decision.”
Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, more than 6,000 servicemembers have lost their lives. From 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 servicemembers took their own life. For every death, five were hospitalized for a suicide attempt.