Wednesday, December 02, 2009

President Obama's Letters of Condolence to Families of the Fallen

Shortly after President Obama took office earlier this year, we found out that he had taken a different tact in writing condolence letters to families of the fallen from Iraq & Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has asked staffers to gather details about troops killed in overseas operations so he can personalize condolence letters to their families, according to a report in the Washington Times this week.  If Bush personally signed the letters (my own condolence letter from Bush appears to have been signed by an auto-pen), Bush's letters included nothing personal to make families feel as if their loss had been personally acknowledged by their loved one's Commander in Chief. Obama's approach to writing letters of condolence was a nice change.

When President Obama spoke at West Point about his new Afghanistan strategy called A New Way Forward, he said as President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars.  It's too bad that isn't true.

We learned recently that the White House has an unwritten policy of not sending letters of condolence to the families of troops who took their own lives.  This is a harsh reality to families whose loved ones lives were lost from the invisible wounds of war.  This policy is not new to the Obama administration and neither was the ban on media coverage at Dover AFB, as soldiers returned in flag covered caskets. Shortly after President Obama took office, he lifted the media ban.  Obama should change this shameful White House policy that cruelly refuses to acknowledge the families tragic loss while their loved one served their country.

Troops who kill themselves on the battlefront or after they return to the homefront are casualties of war as surely as those who die in the field of battle.  The Department of Defense is just coming around to acknowledging the terrible number of suicides as they ponder new policies to try to deal with this tragic consequence of war. While the military has yet to acknowledge the causes of these high number of suicides, it seems clear that 9 years of war and all of the physical and mental strains that exists in battle might be the first place to look.

The Las Vegas Sun wrote a fitting editorial about the family of Chancellor Keesling and their pursuit of receiving the "final honor", a letter of condolence from their son's Commander in Chief.
In November, the Army announced that 140 soliders had committed suicide this year, equaling the record number of Army suicides recorded for 2008. We are reminded of what then-Army Secretary Pete Geren said last year: “Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families.” 

The Army now tells soldiers that mental illness is not a condition of which they should be ashamed, and that seeking help will not stigmatize them. But that might be hard for them to believe when the families of their fellow soldiers who committed suicide do not receive letters of condolence from the president.
The president should send condolence letters to all casualties of war, no matter what the cause.  We owe our troops this final honor.


Anonymous said...

this is spot on. he needs to send letters to these families. he's done more to recognize sacrifice, but he's now using that as cover, I think, to show he cares as he stresses broken families and broken bodies ever more.

Kathi said...

Thank you for this post, I wholeheartedly agree.

Leonard Clark said...

Thank you for this article. I am with the group: Mr. President Change The White House Suicide Policy On Fallen Soldiers ! We are growing fast on Face Book: We too, hope the president will do the right thing in ending this out dated and heart hearted policy. In view of the fact that many soldiers suffer from PTSD, punishing their families by an in-direct snub by the White House doesn't help.
Leonard Clark
Persian Gulf/Iraq Occupation III Vet


AirmanMom said...

This is my first visit to your blog. Thank you for touching on this sensitive topic..each and every one of our fallen soldiers deserve recognition and respect!

Cathy Miller said...

It is great to show your sympathy by attending funeral services and keep in touch by sending a card with condolence messages. This is what I've received when I lost my great parents. Somehow, it will aid the bereaved feel your comfort and support. Thanks for sharing your story.