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White House OKs Suicide Condolence Letters

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2011 – President Barack Obama and Defense Department officials will send condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide in a war zone.

The change is in keeping with administration efforts to remove the stigma of mental health treatment, an administration official said on background.

The president last year ordered a review of the long-held policy of not sending condolence letters to the next of kin of those who commit suicide in war zones. White House officials yesterday announced the policy change allowing for condolence letters to be sent. The president made his decision after consulting with the defense secretary and members of the military chain of command.

“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,” Obama said in a statement released this morning. “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.”

Defense leaders will follow the president’s lead. “The administration will now send condolence letters to families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to Operation New Dawn, Operation Enduring Freedom and other combat operations,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan said.

“This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely,” Obama said in his statement. “They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”

U.S. service members have borne an incredible burden of war, Obama said. “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,” he said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has long favored sending condolence letters to the next of kin of those who committed suicide, a Joint Staff official said on background.

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