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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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The President was—has been on TV, and we’ve seen news reports where he talks about how he anguishes over writing the letters to the families. He was talking about, you know, whether he would deploy more soldiers to Afghanistan, and he said he has to think long and hard because he has to anguish and write those letters to families. But our family is not one of those.


Goodman: In fact, we wanted to play one of those clips of President Obama talking about writing those letters to fallen soldiers being one of the hardest parts of his job. This is what he said to Veterans of Foreign Wars in August.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They’re the families that my wife Michelle has met at bases across the country, the spouses back home doing the parenting of two, the children who wonder when mom and dad may be coming home, the parents who watch their sons and daughters go off to war, and the families who lay a loved one to rest—and the pain that lasts a lifetime.

    But as we protect America, our men and women in uniform must always be treated as what they are: America’s most precious resource. As commander in chief, I have a solemn responsibility for their safety. And there’s nothing more sobering than signing a letter of condolence to the family of servicemen or women who have given their lives for our country.


Goodman: That’s President Obama. Gregg and Jannett, your response?


Gregg Keesling:Well, that our family and the hundreds of families like ours are not part of that group. And it’s almost inconceivable to me and to Jannett that this could be a policy. We don’t know where it comes from, why it’s there, you know, how far it goes back, and what the purpose of [inaudible]—


Goodman: Has your congressional delegation intervened?


Gregg Keesling:Oh, yes, they’ve—Congressman Burton, Congressman Carson, Congressman Hill, Senator Bayh, all of them have been aggressive, I would say, in trying to reach out and say, you know, “Can we change this policy?” It is our understanding that it is under review now. Again, I just come back: What could be the reason, and why would it not just be automatically changed?

You know, there’s—you know, suicide historically has not been a nice thing in society or in the military. But there’s been great strides made in recent years. There’s General Graham, who there was—he was in People magazine, whose son—had a son who died in combat in Iraq and then a son who died stateside of suicide. And I think General Graham is one of the heroes that has really pushed to make changes about, you know, things like us being able to fly to Dover and to greet the body and to bring forward.

And I just feel that maybe President Obama didn’t even know this was the policy. It’s one of those lagging changes that maybe has just not caught up. And you know how hard it is to push for this. You know, you do feel guilt in your—you know, you have this pain and maybe other families, it’s been hard to come out and make this push, but that’s why we’re here today—


Goodman: And Jannett—


Gregg Keesling:—to say, “Please, President.”


Goodman: —why would this be important to you to receive a letter from President Obama?


Jannett Keesling: You know, I thought about it for a long time. And Chancellor was extremely precious to us. And I sat around thinking, he died on foreign soil for us, you know? He sacrificed his young life, six years. And a letter from the President is a little bit of closure to show us that he appreciated our son’s life. And I know he’s busy with a lot of issues, but this is not one that is so hard to change. I mean, it would give us some closure, you know, some feeling of—that we were appreciated or our sacrifice was not in vain. And that’s why I really am pushing forward for families like us who have suffered and will continue to suffer, receives a letter from the President, thanking us for our son’s life or a person’s contribution to this war.