Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sympathy In All Cases

The White House has changed the policy on sending condolence letters to families of active duty soldiers who die by their own hand.

For several administrations at least, the White House has declined to send letters of condolence to families of troops who committed suicide, even if those suicides occurred in combat zones.

The policy was based on concerns within military circles that recognizing such deaths would encourage more suicides. But it infuriated many of those families, who felt they should have received the same kinds of letters sent to families of every service member killed in action.

Starting this week, however, the White House will start sending condolence letters to families of troops who commit suicide in combat zones, which include Afghanistan, Iraq and some other areas that provide support services to combat operations. But families of military personnel who kill themselves in the United States and on foreign bases not considered combat zones will not receive the letters.

“This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly,” the president said in a statement Wednesday. “This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak.”

The president said that rather than encouraging suicides, the new policy might prevent them by reducing the stigma against mental health counseling and thereby encouraging troops to seek help.

“The fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change,” the president’s statement said. “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.”

First, this is a very good thing. The families need this kind of acknowledgement and support. Second, it is amazingly sad that previous administrations refused to do it.