A group of senators have asked President Obama to start sending condolence letters to families of U.S. service members who kill themselves, in what would be a reversal of long-standing policy.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., co-chairs of the Senate Military Family Caucus, along with nine Democratic senators on Wednesday signed a letter to Obama asking him to end what they say is an "insensitive" practice.
"As you well know, the incidence of suicide among our service men and women has reached epidemic levels due to the stresses of nearly 10 years of continuous combat operations," the letter reads.
"While we appreciate that your administration initiated a review of this policy in December 2009, we understand that this review has yet to be completed. It is long past time to overturn this hurtful policy," they wrote.
More than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces killed themselves between 2005-2009, according to an August 2010 report by a task force assigned to look at suicide prevention among military members.
The Defense Department has been working to reduce those numbers, in part by eliminating the stigma of "mental health injuries," the lawmakers noted. They argued that one way to help that process is to change the condolence letter policy.
"Perpetuating a policy that denies condolence letters to families of service members who die by suicide only serves to reinforce this stigma by overshadowing the contributions of an individual’s life with the unfortunate nature of his or her death. In addition, it further alienates families who are already struggling to cope with the death of a loved one," they wrote.
"It is simply unacceptable for the United States to be sending the message to these families that somehow their loved ones sacrifices are less important," the letter continues.
Several mental health groups, including the American Psychiatric Association, oppose the condolence letter exclusions.
Condolence letters for fallen service members have been sent since at least the time of the civil war, when at least 618,000 died as a result of combat, disease or related hardships. The policy of not writing letters to families of military suicide victims reportedly dates to the Clinton administration.