Soldier's Family Pushes for Suicide Condolences
Facing record suicide rate, Army confronts the stigma
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2009 7:13 AM CST
An Army team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Spc.. Chancellor Keesling of Indianapolis, Ind. during a dignified transfer ceremony June 20, 2009, at Dover Air Force Base.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(Newser) – The longstanding policy that allows the president to send letters of condolence only to the families of soldiers killed in combat or accidents is part of a military culture that stigmatizes suicide, says the family of recent Army suicide victim Chancellor Keesling. The Keeslings' effort to change that policy comes as the military itself struggles with suicide, having already surpassed 2008's record of 140 active-duty suicides, the Wall Street Journal reports—but it's been met with silence from the White House and opposition from many in the military.

"A person who kills themselves doesn't deserve the same treatment as a soldier who dies fighting the enemy," says one retired general. But as the military struggles to change its attitude toward mental health problems, Spc. Kessling's father asks "if the president wants to destigmatize mental health, and destigmatize military suicide, why does he stigmatize families like ours by pretending that our son didn't die?"