An Army team carries a transfer case containing the remains of Army Pvt. Keiffer P. Wilhelm at Dover Air Force Base, Del., in 2009. The Ohio soldier committed suicide in Iraq after allegedly being harassed by other men in his platoon.
An Army team carries a transfer case containing the remains of Army Pvt. Keiffer P. Wilhelm at Dover Air Force Base, Del., in 2009. The Ohio soldier committed suicide in Iraq after allegedly being harassed by other men in his platoon. Steve Ruark/AP
The White House has decided to reverse its policy of not sending condolence letters to families of service members who commit suicide while deployed. In a statement, President Obama said he made the decision after an exhaustive study of former policy.
"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely," President Obama said in the statement. "They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change."
Mental health advocates and the American Psychiatric Association had pushed for a change in the policy. They argued that it discriminated against people with mental illnesses.
Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, commended the president's decision in another statement. "Every day we have honored those fallen in combat... now, in accordance with our Commander-in-Chief, we will honor all those who have fallen in service to our great Nation," he wrote.
Yesterday, Dr. Michael Blumenfield, past speaker of the assembly of the American Psychiatric Association and a professor emeritus of psychiatry at New York Medical College, told Shots that he thinks the reversal is "terrific," adding:
I know the families of soldiers who have died as result of mental illness or the tramatic events that impacted them. I think those families will be very gratified that their loved ones' service will be recognized by the president.
Mental Health America also lauded the change in policy. David Shern, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement that it's "an important step that can help eliminate the stigma associated with suicide and provide valuable emotional support to families." Mental Health America is one of the groups that had asked the White House to change its course last fall.