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White House Lifts Ban On Military Suicide Condolence Letters

Reverse a long-standing policy, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the White House will begin sending condolence letters to the families of U.S. 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," Obama said in a written statement.

"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely," he added. "They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change."

The announcement of the decision by the White House comes a little over a month after Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus, and a group of ten other Senators sent a letter urging the administration to reverse the policy.

Boxer released a statement praising the decision, saying, "This will honor the sacrifice of our nation's service men and women and their families and do a great deal to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health treatment that prevents so many from seeking the care they need."

According to an August 2010 Defense Department report, more than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces took their own lives in the 5 years from 2005 to 2009, an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours.

Several mental health and troop advocacy groups also released statements in support of the decision but also called for the administration to do more to address the increasing suicide rates among U.S. service members.

Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, "The families of troops who take their own lives in combat definitely deserve a condolence letter from the President. It's long past time for our nation to formally recognize the loss of these service members."

"But the White House still needs to redouble its resolve to address the root of this suicide epidemic," he added. "Our nation has a huge, rapidly growing military and veteran suicide problem—and the President must do much more to tackle it head-on."

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors also applauded the decision while also calling for presidential condolence letters to be sent to the next of kin of all service members who die while serving honorably, including in military training accidents stateside or by suicide not in combat zones.

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