A Smart “Dissenting Voice” on Troop Suicide Condolence Letters

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Army Capt. DJ Skelton lost his left eye and can’t use his left arm because of a rocket attack in Fallujah. He went on to advise Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on wounded warrior issues.

Skelton has some interesting thoughts about the new White House policy, announced last week, to begin to send condolence letters to troops who commit suicide — but only those who commit suicide while actually deployed in support of combat missions. I spilled a lot of ink last week explaining why so many people think the White House’s well-intentioned idea doesn’t make much sense, since most suicides in the military occur when troops succumb to post-traumatic stress after returning back to the United States.

The Washington Post recently interviewed Skelton on the new, controversial policy. He shared his own personal views on the matter, which make a lot of sense.  Skelton argues that the condolence letters go to casualties of war, wherever they occur.

Skelton pointed out that troops kill themselves for a variety of complex reasons, including stress from combat. But where they are physically located when they die doesn’t have much to do with it.

“PTSD does not happen overnight. Neither does suicide,” Skelton tol the Post. “I would venture to say that most cases happen post-deployment, not while in theater.” (Skelton is right).

The Post’s Jason Ukman asked Skelton whether there should be “investigations into suicides…so that condolence letters would only go to families whose loved ones clearly took their lives because of combat stress?”

Skelton answered, “absolutely.”

So, send those letters to casualties of war when they are, in fact, casualties of war, rather than sending letters based on the geographic location of a suicide. Interesting idea…