President Obama called on Tuesday for an end to the stigmatization of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and affirmed histo send condolence letters to the families of service members who took their own lives while serving.
Mr. Obama, speaking at the annual American Legion Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, emphasized his commitment to providing improved support for veterans both during and after their service - particularly in regard to mental health services and job opportunities.
"We're working aggressively to address another signature wound of this war, which has led too many fine troops and veterans to take their own lives--Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," Mr. Obama said. "We're continuing to make major investments--improving outreach and suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health counselors and treating more veterans than ever before."
The president also explained his recent decision, as reported in July by CBS News, to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone.
"The days when depression and PTSD were stigmatized must end," said Mr. Obama. "That's why I made the decision to start sending condolence letters to the families of service members who take their lives while deployed in a combat zone."
He continued: "These American patriots did not die because they were weak. They were warriors. They deserve our respect. Every man and woman in uniform, and every veteran, needs to know that your nation will be there to help you stay strong. It's the right thing to do."
Mr. Obama first revealed the policy change in a July statement, in which he said he made the decision in consultation with then Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military leaders after a "difficult and exhaustive review" of the policy.
"Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation," he said in that statement.
In his Tuesday remarks, Mr. Obama also lauded those who have served in what he described as the "9/11 Generation," and touted the funding of a post-9/11 GI Bill, which aims to send veterans and their family members to college, as well as provide vocational training and apprenticeships - "so veterans can develop the skills to succeed in today's economy."
"Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it's fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 Generation-the more than five million Americans who have worn the uniform over the past ten years," he said. "They were there, on duty, that September morning, having enlisted in a time of peace, but they instantly transitioned to a war-footing. They're the millions of recruits who have stepped forward since, seeing their nation at war and saying 'send me.' They're every single soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman serving today, who has volunteered to serve in a time of war, knowing they could be sent into harm's way."
He pledged to continue to work to create more jobs for former service members, and again called on Congress to enact tax credits for companies that hire unemployed veterans.
"We cannot, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans," he said. "And as commander-in-chief, I won't allow it."
"America will never leave your side," he promised.