Why Won't Obama Send Condolence Letters to the Parents of Soldiers Who Have Committed Suicide?
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Gregg Keesling:Yeah, we believe our—go ahead.
Goodman: Go ahead, Gregg.
Gregg Keesling:Well, I just—we do not believe our son would have taken his life if he had been here at home. This would not have happened. This is directly related to his military service. Our casualty officer—the military has been very, very, very good to us in helping us. And our casualty officer, though, said the same thing, that “We do not believe your son would have taken his life if he was back home.” And, you know, every other benefit that the military provides to families has been afforded to us. We were flown to Dover to greet the body, in a very emotional experience. And we had a military burial and the twenty-one-gun salute. And Jannett was presented the American flag, which is a very moving ceremony.
But the issue of presidential condolences—in fact, we were shocked. I began—President Obama has set up the suicide task force, and I began to talk with Brigadier General Colleen McGuire and members of staff there, and they were very helpful and wonderful. And during those conversations, I mentioned, “By the way, you know, when do you think the letter comes from the President?” And she goes, “I don’t know. I’ll check it out.” And we talked again a few times. And every time at the end of the conversation, you know, “How are you guys doing?” and all that. And I said, “By the way, when are we going to get the letter from the President?” And on our third conversation, one of the staff members said to me, “Oh, my god, Mr. Keesling, I’ve just discovered there’s a longstanding policy that prevents the President from acknowledging the death of a soldier who takes his life in the war theater by his own hand.” And I nearly dropped to my knees. I was shocked. And I just said to her that I think this is a policy that should change.
Our loss is no different. He was on his second tour. The investigative report shows that he was a good soldier. One of my favorite comments in the report is that his unit commander said, or unit leader says, “I wish I had fifteen Keeslings.” He was a good soldier. He helped other soldiers. In fact, there’s a soldier back stateside today who was at risk of suicide that Chancy intervened to help. And we got his uniform back, and when my sister was packing away the uniform, she found in the pocket and pulled out the suicide information card. He had it in his pocket of his uniform. And he helped other soldiers, but he was unable to help himself.
And so, our grief is deep. And, you know, the letter won’t stop—we’ll still be hollow inside for the rest of our lives, but the acknowledgement from the President that our son gave his life in service to the causes of the United States is important to us, and I think it should be important to the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of suicide victims in this war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well. It’s my understanding that the suicide rate in the military has, for the first time, surpassed the civilian suicide rate. The mental health issues are quite severe. And so, we’re just simply appealing to the President to change the policy, to offer condolences to the families, like ours, that are struggling and suffering with the unique form of suffering a military suicide leaves in its wake. And it’s been especially hard for us.