Obama changes policy on condolence letters

EAST GRANBY, Conn. - President Obama said Wednesday he would begin writing condolence letters to families of troops who commit suicide in a war zone. Troops who die in combat have always received this honor but for generations suicide victims have not been acknowledged by the president.

The White House has been reviewing the policy. But Mr. Obama took action one week after CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano first reported this story on the CBS Evening News.

Honor denied some families of fallen troops

The president says he made the change in the condolence letter policy to remove the stigma associated with the one of the unseen wounds of war - suicide.

In a written statement, Mr. Obama said, "This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change."

Policy shift in presidential condolence letters

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has been advocating for more mental health programs for veterans, called the president's action overdue.

IAVA Senior Legislative Associate Tom Tarantino said, "While we think this is positive first step we think a lot more needs to be done. The White House really needs to redouble its resolve to addressing this suicide epidemic head on."

If anyone can be credited with changing the policy, it's Gregg and Jannett Keesling. They have been fighting for the change since 2009. That's the year their son, 25-year-old Army Specialist Chance Keesling killed himself on his second tour in Iraq.

They say acknowledgement from the president gives them some measure of comfort.

"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," Gregg Keesling said.

But there are still military families who will not be receiving condolence letters. The policy change does not include service members who commit suicide or die in training accidents here in the United States.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.