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Grieving families forgotten
The families of nearly all service members who die in Iraq or Afghanistan, whether they are killed in action or die of non-combat injuries or illnesses, receive a letter of condolence from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Gates deserves commendation for the time and care he takes with these notes, which express gratitude for the service of the deceased and the sacrifices of the family.
But some families do not receive such letters of condolence: the families of troops who die by their own hand in the war zones.
Pentagon officials say there is no official policy to exclude families of suicide victims; it’s simply the way it’s always been done — “going back years, if not decades,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a December news conference.
That is no excuse for ignoring the pain of these families’ loss, which they feel no less keenly than do families of troops killed in action.
Failing to give official thanks to these families also furthers the harmful belief ingrained in military culture that service members who develop mental health problems in combat are somehow weak, their service somehow tainted.
The suicide rate is at a record high in the military. That suggests troops today are struggling to cope with truly extraordinary levels of mental and emotional stress.
Giving condolence letters to the families of suicide victims would send a powerful message of support and serve as a signal that the service of their loved ones was as valued and honorable as the service of those who died in combat.
Gates should show the same compassion to all families who sacrifice a loved one in wartime service, no matter how they die.
--submitted by Patti Woodard
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