Our nation faces a critical challenge as we welcome our troops back from war. After bravely risking their lives for our country, these heroes and their families often return to strained relationships, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our response as a grateful nation is critical, and there is a near epidemic of suicides among our Armed Forces. In 2009, more military service members committed suicide than were killed by enemy fire in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
While the Department of Defense provides service members who commit suicide a full military burial, complete with a flag-draped coffin and 21-gun salute, there is a long-standing, unwritten policy of not sending Presidential letters of condolence to the families of service members who have completed suicide.
This lack of acknowledgment and condolence from the President may leave families with a sense that somehow their service member's sacrifices may not have been as great as those of others who died while in the military.
In the words of Gregg Keesling, who lost his son, Army Spec. Chancellor (Chance) Keesling to suicide while Chance was deployed in Iraq, "We have had the good fortune to have a wide and deep support network. However, other families may not enjoy such support. In such a case, the recognition of the president could have a profound impact on the family of the suicide victim. [...] Please change the policy to give families the dignity they deserve."
President Obama has ordered a review of this policy, but no decision has been made.
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