President Obama officially announced today that he is reversing a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone.
In a statement released by the White House today, Mr. Obama said he made his decision in consultation with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military leaders after a "difficult and exhaustive review" of the policy.
"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely," Mr. Obama said. "They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change. 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."
The president said that since taking office, he has been "committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war," which is why he worked to expand mental health budgets for servicemen and servicewomen.
In a White House blog post today, General Peter Chiarelli, the Vice chief of staff of the Army, commended the president's decision while revealing that the "greatest regret" of his military career has been not acknowledging a soldier who committed suicide.
Chiarelli explained that he lost 169 soldiers while commanding a calvary division deployed in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. However, a monument erected at Fort Hood, Texas to honor the soldiers only listed 168 names.
"I approved the request of others not to include the name of the one Soldier who committed suicide," he wrote. "I deeply regret my decision."
Chiarelli said Mr. Obama's decision today "represents a monumental step" towards erasing the stigma of mental and behavioral health conditions that plague many soldiers.
CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reported Tuesday evening on the change of policy and spoke with Gregg Keesling, whose son, 25-year-old Army Specialist Chance Keesling, committed suicide on his second tour in Iraq.
Since the new policy goes into effect starting today, the Keesling family will not receive an official presidential condolence letter, but they will receive some kind of recognition from the White House.
Speaking of his son, Keesling said, "He was a good soldier and that's the part that I want to know -- that the country appreciates that he fought he did everything that he was asked to do. It didn't turn out well for him, but at least this country could write a simple letter and that president represents our country and just say thank you for our son's service."