Connie Scott of Minnesota holds a photo of her son, Brian Matthew Williams, who committed suicide on Jan. 8, 2007, when he was 20. He was in the Army. (Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)
For the past several administrations, the White House has not sent letters of condolence to families of troops who committed suicides. The policy angered families but some in military circles argued that recognizing military suicides would only encourage more.
On Wednesday, President Obama said he has decided to reverse the long-standing policy.
The White House will start sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while in a combat zone, but still won’t send notes to families of those killed outside war zones.
Suicide remains a major problem among service members. Although suicides among soldiers serving on active duty decreased modestly in 2010 for the first time in six years, suicides in the Army National Guard and Reserve have continued to rise.
Here’s a breakdown of the most recent numbers:
301 suicides among active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers in 2010.
242 suicides among active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers in 2009.
156 suicides among Army’s active-duty force in 2010.
162 suicides among Army’s active-duty force in 2009.
145 suicides among National Guard and reserve units in 2010. 80 suicides among National Guard and reserve units in 2009.
The president said the decision was not taken lightly. “This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak,” Obama said in a written statement. “And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”