A short op-ed piece from the New York Times, reprinted here in full. Thumbs up to the Obama Administration for including suicide in a war zone as cause for a presidential letter of condolence. It doesn’t change the causes of suicide, necessarily, but as the NYT says, it does recognize that not all sacrifice involves enemy fire. MP+
July 6, 2011
Death on the Battlefield
In an enlightened reversal of the ways of war, President Obama has decided to begin sending letters of condolence to the families of combat troops who commit suicide. Until now, White House policy across several administrations extended the president’s personal sympathy to the kin of troops killed in combat, but denied the honor for those who committed suicide in war zones.
The change is heartening for grieving families and for the nation, too. The policy amounted to official stigmatizing and showed a lack of gratitude for some who faced combat fire.
The military’s concern had been that drawing attention to those who struggled with mental health problems and took their own lives might encourage more suicides. But after an 18-month study, the administration came to the obvious conclusion that condolences could be a positive factor. Mr. Obama will be signing letters in the future “to destigmatize the mental health costs of war” and help prevent more tragic deaths, the administration said.
Suicide in the military and among veterans is a pressing problem the government is struggling to understand. There were more than 295 suicides last year among active-duty personnel, a majority outside combat zones.
The honor for families of those who killed themselves in battle zones will not be retroactive. But in changing the policy, the White House called to extend comfort to Gregg Keesling, the father of a soldier who committed suicide in 2009 on his second tour in Iraq. Mr. Keesling was in the forefront of growing protests about the cruel neglect of these grieving families. “He was a good soldier,” Mr. Keesling told CBS News, “and that’s the part that I want to know — that the country appreciates that he fought.”