With rates of suicide, the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, and violent incidents involving mental health such as the recent shooting at Fort Hood, the military has been scrambling to address what is clearly becoming a major health concern among its personnel. Creating plans for early identification and prevention of mental health concerns has been cited as a predominant goal for the military, and establishing meaningful pathways to support for veterans and their families after active duty is also a priority. But little, if anything, has been proposed for addressing the suicides that do take place, nor caring for the families that survive suicide victims. Though it may not receive much attention from the press or from lawmakers, the government’s treatment of military personnel who kill themselves, as well as their treatment of surviving families, has come under fire recently as grieving parents wonder why they aren’t served with a presidential letter (Dao 2009).
For well over 100 years, those who perish in service to the United States are given certain honors upon their deaths, one of which is a presidential letter sent to the surviving family. While this tradition is still carried out today, families of military suicide victims report that they are not given such letters, an omission that many suspect may reflect the government’s disrespect for suicide and for mental health issues at large. Some observers note that the military’s attempt to erase the stigmas surrounding mental health concerns are not aided by the practice of exempting these surviving families from full presidential honors, and may well discourage soldiers and other servicemen and women from seeking help.
As details about the treatment of these families continue to surface and capture the public’s attention, advocates hope that the government will rise above the limitations of its current policies to express its support for all of those who fall while serving the country.
Dao, J. (2009, November 25). Families of military suicides seek white house condolences. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/us/26suicide.html?_r=0
© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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