Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Prez O Changes Condolence Letter Rules

Several men and women in my extended family have served in the military in some form or another. One of these men was the son of one of my father's wives from a previous marriage(its a complicated genealogy). One morning, instead of putting on his Air Force uniform and going to work, he killed himself. I did not know him well but always admired him; we were the same age but he seemed smarter and savvier than I. His death still bothers me, 20 years later. We had lost touch several years before he died but I always thought that eventually our paths would cross again. I was wrong on that and very dismayed to find out, after his death, that at one point we had lived within an hour of each other.

It is fairly well known that the families of servicemen/women who die in combat receive a letter from the President. It is less well known that if a death is ruled a suicide the family does not receive such a letter. This strikes me as unnecessarily cruel. President Obama has changed that policy:

Statement by the President on Change of Condolence Letter Policy

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.

The young man I referenced above died stateside so his mother would not have received a presidential letter regardless, but this new policy, or at least removing the stigma, may be a small comfort to families whose loved ones die in a combat zone, regardless of how they die.

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