CBS: Most families who lose a loved one in the war zones receive a letter of condolence from the President of the United States. But there are a few who do not receive this honor. It’s long standing policy – going back many years – that troops who commit suicide in war do not get the president’s acknowledgment.
The CBS Evening News first reported on this last week, and tonight we have learned the White House is changing the policy…. “I had doubts – many, many doubts,” Gregg Keesling said. “We are very pleased.” Last week, Keesling got the call he’d waited nearly two years to receive from the White House. He learned his family’s long wait for acknowledgement from the commander-in-chief was almost over. “My oldest son came down and we had a hug and it was very emotional,” Keesling said. “It was a very good moment that this has been worth it.”
Since the suicide of his son, 25-year-old Army Specialist Chance Keesling, in Iraq, Gregg and his wife Jannett, have fought to receive a condolence letter. They’ve written to the president, and asked their local congressmen for help.
Keesling’s now been told he’ll receive some kind of recognition from the White House – though not an official presidential condolence letter – in memory of his son.
… Under a decades-old White House policy, inherited by the Obama administration, military families received letters from the president only if their loved ones died on the battlefield or in accidents in war zones. Now, the policy is changing, Gregg Keesling told us recently, and for families like his, the acknowledgement is long overdue.
… The new policy goes into effect starting today, which is why the Keesling family will not receive an official presidential condolence letter. Their son, Chance, died in 2009. We’re told the policy affects all military families whose loved ones die in war zones, regardless of how they died….
Statement from the President:
“As Commander in Chief, I am deeply grateful for the service of all our men and women in uniform, and grieve for the loss of those who suffer from the wounds of war — seen and unseen. Since taking office, I’ve been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war, which is why I’ve worked to expand our mental health budgets, and ensure that all our men and women in uniform receive the care they need.
“As a next step and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the military chain of command, I have also decided to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone. This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly. This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change. Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”