Presidential condolences and troop suicides
Apparently no one has told the White House that suicide is the final symptom of the disease of depression. Instead, they continue to stigmatize suicide as a poor moral choice. While the families of most soldiers and sailors who die at war receive official condolence notes from their Commander-in-Chief, there are no such notes for those who commit suicide.
The family of Pfc. Jason Scheuerman did not receive a note after he committed suicide. When his family inquired, they got a surprising answer. The New York Times reports, “That policy, government officials have said, is based on concerns among senior military leaders that presidential letters of condolence might appear to condone or even encourage suicide.”
Mr. Scheuerman wrote again saying the policy was misguided. The Times writes, “The White House did not respond to Mr. Scheuerman’s second letter. But in late 2005, the son of the Indianapolis Colts’ coach Tony Dungy committed suicide, and President George W. Bush sent him a letter of condolence.”
Mr. Scheuerman fired off a hand-written note to the White House asking why the son of a military family should be treated differently from the son of a professional football coach… A few weeks later, in March 2006, a letter from the White House arrived at the Scheuerman home in Sanford, N.C., near Fort Bragg, where Mr. Scheuerman worked at the time. “Laura and I are saddened by the loss of your son, Jason,” the letter, signed by President Bush, said. “We know this has been a difficult time for you, and we send our heartfelt sympathy.”
So at least one family finally received a note. I hope the Obama administration will fix this wrong-headed and cruel policy. No people suffering from depression are going to refrain from committing suicide, if their diseases progresses that far, because their family would not get a note. And I cannot imagine someone of sound mind would end his or her life so that a family could get mail from the White House.
Suicide is a tragedy of immense proportion. That tragedy should not be magnified by an outdated and misguided understanding of suicide. Writing these notes is a duty the President should not shirk. When someone has given the ultimate sacrifice for her or his country, the least our nation can do is acknowledge their death, express our sorrow, and thank them for their service.