Friday, July 8, 2011

The Military, Suicide and Condolences

Obama Reverses Policy, Sends Condolences to Military Suicides:

Acknowledging the mental strains wrought by America’s decade at war, the Pentagon and White House said Wednesday they will now begin sending condolence letters to families of troops who commit suicide in a combat zone.

The policy shift brings a bit of consistency to the long-standing practice of top U.S. leaders recognizing the service of those who died while fighting for their country. Until now, many of the military service chiefs and secretaries wrote to families of those who committed suicide while in combat. But in most cases, the president and secretary of defense did not.

President Barack Obama said the decision was made after an exhaustive review of the previous policy, and was not taken lightly.

“This issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak,” Obama said in a written statement. “And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”

Having written about this issue endlessly over the past four years here at TPE, of course my first reaction is to applaud the president and his administration. I think he nailed it in his comments, particularly "they didn't die because they were weak."

However, I would like to have seen him go a step further and address letters of condolences to those who make it out of the combat zone, only to die here at home by their own hand because of a wrecked economy, a brain-dead congress bent on slashing counseling and veteran benefits in the name of "austerity," and an uncaring, unsympathetic society (the rich get richer, the poor go off to war).

Or better than a letter, how about getting these people the help they need and deserve. The suicide epidemic among veterans in the "never ending war" is growing exponentially each year, with no end in sight.

But we'll take whatever bone we can get on this issue. Either way, the commander-in-chief is recognizing these men and women for their sacrifices, banishing the term "coward" from any postmortem analysis of their lives. And it goes another step further in bringing suicide out of the basement of social issues and acknowledging its societal impact.

Suicide is not an individual problem; it has been and remains social problem.

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