With unfit conditions at veterans hospitals around the country and the slow and humiliating repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, it could be difficult to gauge the relationship between politicians and the service members who risk their lives daily. But President Obama took a step in the right direction when he reversed a longstanding White House policy in favor of the harsh realities of being a soldier. His administration has decided to send condolence letters to the families of service members who commited suicide while deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones, Politico reports.
Before, the mental detriment that led so many troops to suicide went unacknowleged by the government who sent them there. This new approach represents a chance to address the mental health issues that many of our soldiers face but are too ashamed to reveal.
Politico received the following statement from the White House: “The president feels strongly that we need to destigmatize the mental health costs of war to prevent these tragic deaths, and changing this policy is part of that process.” The review “was exhaustive and difficult, as this is an emotional, painful and complicated issue.” And, “As a result of this review, the President has decided to change the administration’s policy and will now send condolence letters to families of service members that commit suicide while deployed to Operation New Dawn (OND), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and other combat operations.
The change was championed by a group of 11 senators who wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to change the policy. “Unfortunately, perpetuating a policy that denies condolence letters to families of service members who die by suicide only serves to reinforce this stigma,” they wrote.
Indeed, looking the other way at suicide is both dangerous and callous. It denies those service members a chance to get help and it sends a message to soldiers who could be potentially suicidal to ignore it like the government so often does. Hopefully this small, but important change will have an impact on the way mental health is viewed within the military.