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Obama reverses policy; will now send condolences to families of those who commit suicide in combat zones

July 6, 2011 |  3:28 pm


President Obama on Wednesday reversed a longstanding White House policy of not sending condolences to families of service members who committed suicides in combat zones. The previous administrations believed that such acknowledgments may lead to an increase in suicides.

In a statement released by the White House, the president said after meeting with the secretary of Defense and other military brass, he has decided to do things differently than his predecessors because these service members "didn’t die because they were weak."

"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," the president said in the statement.

"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," Obama said.

In 2010, military suicides decreased slightly for the first time in six years, according to the Washington Post, who reported, however, that there was an increase in suicides among National Guard soldiers. "301 active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers committed suicide [in 2010], compared to 242 in 2009," the Post reported.


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-- Tony Pierce

Photo: President Barack Obama greets military personnel on May 6 before addressing troops at Ft. Campbell, Ky. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

Andrew Malcolm is on assignment.