Politics

Obama Administration Shifts Policy on Military Condolence Letters to Include Suicides

President Obama announced Wednesday that he will now send condolence letters to the families of service members who committed suicide while in combat, reversing a long-standing policy.

The commander-in-chief added said he consulted with Secretary of Defense Panetta and other military leaders. He said he didn't make the decision "lightly," and it was a "difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy."

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

The issue of mental health problems in the military has been a somewhat sticky and complicated issue, one the military is accused of downplaying, but also only was magnified as troops return from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, with the latter being America's longest war.

"I've been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war, which is why I've worked to expand our mental health budgets, and ensure that all our men and women in uniform receive the care they need," Obama said.

Gregg Keesling, who's 25-year-old son Army Specialist Chance Keesling committed suicide in Iraq, has been driving an effort to change the policy and told CBS News they got a call from the White House last week on the change.

"My oldest son came down and we had a hug and it was very emotional," Keesling said. "It was a very good moment that this has been worth it," he told CBS.

Keesling also said that he's been told he'll get an acknowledgment of some kind from the White House, but not the official condolence letter because the new policy is starting just now.

"He was a good soldier and that's the part that I want to know -- that the country appreciates that he fought he did everything that he was asked to do. It didn't turn out well for him, but at least this country could write a simple letter and that president represents our country and just say thank you for our son's service," he added.