U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus, and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues today sent a letter to President Obama urging the Administration to reverse a long-standing policy in which Presidential letters of condolence are withheld from families of American service members who commit suicide.
Senator Boxer said, “We should honor the service of all the brave military men and women who sacrifice for our nation. Ending this long-standing policy will provide comfort to the families struggling with the loss of a loved one, while also reducing the stigma that prevents too many men and women in uniform from seeking the mental health care they need.”
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In their letter, the Senators highlight the growing number of suicides among troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and point to a Department of Defense study which concluded that between 2005 and 2009, there was an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours in the military. The policy of withholding condolence letters has persisted throughout numerous Administrations, even though it has been hurtful to many military families who have lost loved ones and reinforces the stigma within the military surrounding mental health issues.
In addition to Senator Boxer, the letter is signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The full text of the Senators’ letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
We write to respectfully request that you take immediate steps to reverse the long-standing policy of withholding Presidential letters of condolence to the families of service members who die by suicide. While we appreciate that your Administration initiated a review of this policy in December 2009, we understand that this review has yet to be completed. It is long past time to overturn this hurtful policy.
As you well know, the incidence of suicide among our service men and women has reached epidemic levels due to the stresses of nearly ten years of continuous combat operations. According to the August 2010 Final Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces, “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.”
In response, the Department of Defense has taken steps in recent years to better prevent suicides among service members—including working to eliminate the stigma within the military surrounding mental health injuries. This is so important because too often our service men and women do not seek the help they need because of concerns about how they will be perceived.
Unfortunately, perpetuating a policy that denies condolence letters to families of service members who die by suicide only serves to reinforce this stigma by overshadowing the contributions of an individual’s life with the unfortunate nature of his or her death. In addition, it further alienates families who are already struggling to cope with the death of a loved one. It is simply unacceptable for the United States to be sending the message to these families that somehow their loved ones’ sacrifices are less important.
Our nation’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines and their families deserve more. We sincerely hope you will do what is right and reverse this insensitive policy once and for all.
Thank you for attention to this critical matter and for your commitment to our military families.
United States Senator