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Pentagon Kicks Condolence Letter Controversy Back to the White House

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The Pentagon seems to be distancing itself from an increasingly bungled-looking effort by the White House to use condolence letters to acknowledge military suicides as legitimate casualties of war, according to a statement sent to TIME.

President Obama announced on Wednesday that the White House would reverse a longstanding policy and begin to send condolence letters to some troops who commit suicide. Obama said the change is because he is “committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war.”

But in strange twist, the president announced that these letters would only go to troops who commit suicide while actually deployed in a combat zone.

Veteran advocates and military families immediately applauded the idea behind effort, but panned the strange location-based exclusion – particularly if the idea is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental wounds– since so many suicides occur when service members succumb to post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from combat. In the Army, for example, nearly 73 percent of soldiers who committed suicide took their own lives in the United States, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. And around 70 percent of those troops who committed suicide had deployed to war.

Obama said Wednesday that he made the decision “in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the military chain of command.”

TIME was the first to publish a piece about the problem. As the story unfolded on Wednesday, a White House source referred questions about the strange exclusion to the Pentagon. Last night the Pentagon referred questions back to the White House.

“As to why this doesn’t apply to others, you’ll have to ask the WH about the rationale since it’s their policy change” Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith wrote in an email Thursday night.

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