President Obama today said he’s reversing a long-standing policy of not sending Presidential letters of condolence to families of American service members who commit suicide in combat zones:
“As Commander in Chief, I am deeply grateful for the service of all our men and women in uniform, and grieve for the loss of those who suffer from the wounds of war – seen and unseen. Since taking office, I’ve been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war, which is why I’ve worked to expand our mental health budgets, and ensure that all our men and women in uniform receive the care they need.
“As a next step and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the military chain of command, I have also decided to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone. 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. Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”
A bipartisan coalition of Senators in late May had urged the President to do this. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who co-chairs the Senate Military Family Caucus, was among those Senators and welcomed the President’s announcement today:
“I am pleased that President Obama has reversed this long-standing policy and will begin sending Presidential condolence letters to the families of our troops who die by suicide. This will honor the sacrifice of our nation’s service men and women and their families and do a great deal to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health treatment that prevents so many from seeking the care they need.”