2009 Army National Guard Honor Guard Competition: A member of the Maryland Army National Guard Honor Guard team adjusts his cover prior to competing in the military funeral honors event during the 2009 Army National Guard Honor Guard Competition at Fort Myer, Va., Monday, Sept.14, 2009. The competition, which included eight finalists, tested the skills of the team members on their drill and ceremony knowledge, performance of military funeral honors, and attention to detail in wearing the Army uniform. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy)(Released)
Studies show in the past two years there are more U.S. military suicides than there are deaths in the line of duty. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/The National Guard/Flickr)

In a move that breaks with presidential tradition, Barack Obama has announced he will issue presidential letters of condolence to the families of U.S. soldiers who commit suicide. Previously, presidential letters have been reserved for battlefield deaths, reports USA Today.

‘They didn’t die because they were weak’

President Obama has been sensitive to what he describes as “the unseen wounds of war,” particularly as the war in Afghanistan has marched on.

“Since taking office, I’ve been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war,” he said in a statement.

Referring to his decision to break with presidential policy, Obama assured detractors that he’d only come to his decision after “difficult and exhaustive review.”

“This issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely,” he said. “They didn’t die because they were weak.”

Military suicides on the rise

According to a Department of Defense study, a service member commits suicide once every 36 hours. Reuters suggests a growing mistrust for military officials among U.S. war veterans has contributed to the increase in suicides. Lack of trust leads to troops not reaching out for help, which leads to increased despondency as conditions go untreated, Reuters says. Walter Reed Army Hospital Chief of Psychiatry Col. John Bradley believes a new plan to improve military mental health worker training and resource coordination will help bridge the distance.

An Army Mental Health Advisory points to increased stress and psychological problems among U.S. troops. Military suicide rates in 2009 were “significantly higher” than in 2005. In 2009, 309 U.S. military members committed suicide, 42 more than the previous year. Various studies have found that in the past two years more U.S. troops have committed suicide than been killed in the line of duty.

President Obama looks to extend care

In the president’s statement on military suicides, he reiterated the need to expand mental health budgets so that sufficient care is made available. His concluding statement reminds us that the price members of the U.S. Armed Forces have paid in foreign wars is considerable.

“The fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change,” said the president. “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.”

More US military suicides than combat deaths



Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/23/us-suicide-military-usa-idUSTRE68M5G720100923

Tampa Bay Online: http://beta2.tbo.com/news/metro/2010/oct/10/na-military-suicide-rates-surge-ar-24494/

USA Today: http://usat.ly/pNgixC

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