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Official: White House to lift ban on military suicide condolences

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  • Official: White House to lift ban on military suicide condolences

    (CNN) -- The Obama administration has reversed a White House policy of not sending condolence letters to the next-of-kin of service members who commit suicide, a senior administration official confirmed in a statement to CNN.

    The move comes nearly six weeks after a group of senators -- 10 Democrats and one Republican -- asked President Barack Obama to change what they called an "insensitive" policy that dates back several administrations and has been the subject of protest by some military families.

    In the statement Tuesday, the White House official said a review had been completed, and the president will send condolence letters to families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat operations.

    "The president feels strongly that we need to destigmatize the mental health costs of war to prevent these tragic deaths, and changing this policy is part of that process," the official's statement said.

    "Unfortunately, perpetuating a policy that denies condolence letters to families of service members who die by suicide only serves to reinforce this stigma by overshadowing the contributions of an individual's life with the unfortunate nature of his or her death. It is simply unacceptable for the United States to be sending the message to these families that somehow their loved ones' sacrifices are less important."

    CNN first reported in 2009 about the family of Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, who killed himself while serving in Iraq.

    The family set up a wall to pay tribute to Keesling in their Indiana home. Along with his uniform and the flag from his burial service, a space was left for the expected condolence letter from the commander in chief.

    Upset when they learned a suicide did not merit a letter from the president, Keesling's father, Gregg, wrote to the president and the Army chief of staff requesting the policy be changed. He argued that his son's suicide was a result of what he was exposed to during war and that it deserved to be considered caused by battle.

    According to an Army report last year, annual suicide rates in the Marine Corps and the Army -- the two branches most involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- increased steadily between 2004 and 2009, to more than 20 per 100,000 people. During that time the rate for those two branches surpassed the age-adjusted, national civilian average, whereas suicide rates for the Air Force and Navy stayed below the national average.

    In 2001, the suicide rate among Marines, like the Air Force and Navy, was about half the civilian rate, and the Army's, while higher than the other three branches, was still below the civilian rate, according to the Army report.

  • #2
    Re: Official: White House to lift ban on military suicide condolences

    In some states, they have decided not to honor soldiers who commit suicide because all it does is encourage more suicides. People attend memorial ceremonies, then think that if they honored this soldier who was suicidal by promoting him/her post-humously, and having a ceremony then they will treat me like that too. I'm not sure about a letter. I understand those states' reasoning, it also seems that suicide can run rampant in one unit vs. another unit, almost as though it is contagious.

    But there are a lot of situations where soldiers serve very honorably then commit suicide. So there so many shades of gray around this topic. Then there are those young soldiers that have never seen combat that commit suicide.

    I've seen a lot of tragic situations. I guess if suicide is viewed as an illness, then perceptions may change. If someone died of a sickness then they'd be honored.

    As a future chaplain, I think they should be honored. Theologically, in my opinion, everyone is created in the imageo dei and that's worth celebrating.

    This is a delicate subject, and this is just my personal nonprofessional opinion.