Professional News
End Ban on Condolences After Soldier Dies by Suicide, APA Says
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 22 page 2-2

APA has joined the push for a change in the White House policy that prohibits the president from sending official letters of condolence to the families of members of the military who die by suicide during or after their combat tours.

In October, APA issued a public statement urging President Obama to reverse the policy barring such letters. The Association is one of a number of mental health groups, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health America, that are pushing for the policy change.

"The contributions of these men and women to their country are not less for having suffered a mental illness," said APA President Carol Bernstein, M.D., in a written statement. "A reversal of this policy to allow condolence letters to family members will not only help to honor the contributions and lives of the service men and women, but will also send a message that discriminating against those with mental illness is not acceptable."

Members of the military who die by suicide receive full military honors, but only the families of service members killed in combat (or as a result of combat injuries) or in noncombat incidents in a war zone receive condolence letters.

The condolence-letter policy is unwritten but longstanding, according to mental health advocates. Since November 2009, the Obama administration has been reviewing whether to maintain the policy, according to the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA.

The House of Representatives voted in May to add an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill (HR 5136) that urged the policy be overturned.

The call for presidential recognition of the service that these military members provided comes as the military continues to search for ways to reduce the growing suicide rate among military personnel. The numbers have continued to climb since the military began tracking them in 2003, with 162 active-duty members of the Army dying by suicide in 2009 and 80 dying by suicide in the first six months of 2010, according to Army reports (Psychiatric News, September 3). The elevated suicide rate continues despite the Department of Defense strengthening its suicide-prevention programs and trying to remove the stigma many in the military attach to seeking mental health care.

The APA statement is posted at <www.psych.org/condolenceletterpolicy>.blacksquare

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