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Why Won't Obama Send Condolence Letters to the Parents of Soldiers Who Have Committed Suicide?

The bereaved parents of Chancellor Keesling, a US soldier who took his own life in Iraq, wonder why the death of their son is treated differently than other mortalities.

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But when he did get called up, we sat down, and we talked all the different options. You know, we’re dual citizens, and we actually talked about Chancy going to Jamaica to stay there. But he looked at us and said, you know, “Dad, I’m an American, too. I’m a soldier. This is my duty. I can handle it. I will go.” And sadly, for us as a family, it was not the right decision.

And we have learned that during his enlisted time, the mental health issues that he faced never reached his reserve unit. There is actually a law that prevents mental health issues that occur during your enlisted time from passing over to the Reserves. And it’s a law that comes from, you know, our Vietnam days, when reservists were not used in war the way we’ve used them this time. And I think that’s one of the messages we hope gets out, that we look at how mental health issues get transferred to the Guard and the Reserve units as these soldiers are deployed over and over and over again.


Co-Host Sharif Abdel Kouddous:Well, talk about that, because in 2006, on his first tour in Iraq, he was actually placed on a suicide watch. His ammunition was taken away for a week. So you’re saying that information was not available to his superiors or to anyone in the military on his second deployment?


Gregg Keesling:No. No. There is actually a law that prevents that information from passing through. We’ve had a 15-6—what is called a 15 and 6 investigation by the military into our son’s death, and they’ve confirmed that. With our congressional help, we have asked, you know, for a review with General Casey, and they’ve answered our questions back, and they’ve confirmed that there is a law that prevents that information from passing from the enlisted to the Reserve.

So his commander in Iraq—he was with the 961st Engineering Brigade, and his commander had no idea that he had had mental health. It was incumbent upon him, the soldier, to share it. And I think that’s very difficult to put a soldier in that type of situation. I mean, being a military person, you don’t—you’re tough. And our son wanted to be tough, and he wanted to be a good soldier.


Co-Host Sharif Abdel Kouddous:Now, in 2009, just hours before he ended up taking his own life, he sent both of you an email. Can you talk about what he said in that? And then you spoke with him after reading that email.


Goodman: Jannett?


Jannett Keesling: I spoke to Chancellor the night before he died for about four minutes. And as always, he wore a really tough exterior, because even after conversations with some of the soldiers after he died, no one saw that he was in any type of distress or trouble. I know they say he was sleeping. He was happy that morning. He was singing.

But what he did tell me that night is that he was going to have a very long, difficult day. His conversation was quite brief. Normally he would say that he loves me, and he would say goodbye. But this time he simply hung up. I had the feeling that something was definitely bothering him more than the norm. And the next thing we knew, they were at our door saying that he had—


Gregg Keesling:He had passed.