We’re glad to see that the White House has decided to reverse a disturbing and damaging policy, dating back several administrations, to deny a presidential condolence letter to the next-of-kin of servicemen and women who commit suicide while deployed in combat.
It isn’t just that the hard-line policy against acknowledging those deaths was hurtful to military families who have already sacrificed and suffered for their country. It also amounted to an official denial that combat can have devastating mental health consequences—not only these tragic deaths but post-traumatic stress disorder, which can destroy lives, and families, long after the tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan is over.
Refusing to acknowledge those deaths reinforced the stigma attached to mental illness—the same stigma that keeps soldiers from seeking help for emotional distress and, in the most extreme cases, impels them to choose suicide instead. The irony is appalling.
CNN notes that suicides in the Army and Marines, the branches of the armed services most involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been rising steadily since 2004, and have now surpassed the national average. And a new study of military children reported by Reuters shows that mental health problems of kids 5 to 17 increase with the duration of their parent’s deployment.