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 president should send condolence letters to all casualties of war, no matter what the cause. We owe our troops this final honor.
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.