Overturning a policy that has been in place for many years, the Obama administration announced Wednesday it will now send condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide.

"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "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."

US Senator Barbara Boxer, who led a bipartisan group made up of 10 Democrats and one Republican that asked for the policy change, said it will "do a great deal to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health treatment."

The push was started two years ago when the father of a solider who killed himself while serving in Iraq, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, wrote to the president and the Army chief of staff and argued his son's suicide was a result of what he was exposed to during war and was thus battle-related.

"It does not bring our son back, but I think it does send a powerful message that mental health in our military can be addressed," he said.

Between 2004 and 2009, suicide rates for the Marine Corps and the Army -- who are most involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afganistan -- were 20 per 100,000 people, surpassing the age-adjusted, national civilian average. This marks a sharp increase since 2001, when the suicide rate among Marines was about half the civilian rate.

The Army's, while still higher than the other three branches of the military, was still below the civilian average as well.


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