President, Pentagon to acknowledge troop suicides with letters

Troop suicides while on combat duty will be acknowledged in letters to the families from the president and the Pentagon under a new policy quietly announced this week.

Barack Obama's announcement came amid widening concern over the rate of suicide in the armed services, which is exceeding civilian suicide rates for the first time since the Vietnam War, the SMH reports.

Up until now, deaths are noted only by junior staff, although many of the military service chiefs and secretaries have written to families of those who committed suicide while in combat, according to the AP. The president and secretary of defense, however, have not.

''This issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely,'' Obama reportedly said in a statement issued by the White House. ''They didn't die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change.''

A total of 1,100 servicemen and women committed suicide from 2004 to 2009 — one suicide every day and a half — including veterans who returned home, Reuters reports, citing a report released last year.

Last month, the Army said it had identified 21 potential suicides among active duty soldiers in May. It confirmed two cases of suicide in April and was investigating another 14 potential cases.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, praised the decision to change the condolence letter policy as "a monumental step" to eliminate the stigma associated with "the unseen wounds of war."

Obama used the term to describe brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, and the depression and anxiety that some soldiers experience in conflict and when they get home.

The military's suicide rate has reportedly risen steadily during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, owing largely to repeated tours of duty.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, also reportedly backed the decision to send the condolence letters to all troops who die on active duty.