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Entries in Service Member Suicide (1)

Wednesday
Jul062011

President Obama Changing Policy on Service Member Suicides

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- President Obama this week decided to change the longstanding policy that until now excluded families of U.S. service members who killed themselves in war zones from receiving presidential condolence letters, White House officials told ABC News.

The policy -- decades old, and likely rooted in military perceptions that suicide is dishonorable -- has been under review by the president’s National Security Staff since December 2009.

Since then, a senior White House official said, the National Security Staffer engaged in an exhaustive review process, and the president decided to make the change, prompted by "the conversations we had with experts about de-stigmatizing suicide, (and) the conversations we had with military families.”

Letters to families of service members who die in war zones will be from the president, and will differ depending on the type of death, as in a combat death versus an accidental death.

“The President feels strongly that we need to de-stigmatize the mental health costs of war to prevent these tragic deaths, and changing this policy is part of that process,” a senior White House official said.

The Pentagon has been trying to address the skyrocketing rates of suicide in recent years. More than 200 U.S. service members have killed themselves in the theaters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan since those wars began.

Still more have committed suicide outside combat areas. In August 2010, the final report of the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces concluded: “The physical and psychological demands on both the deployed and non-deployed warriors are enormous. In the 5 years from 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces took their own lives, an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours.”

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