Military Families Speak Out’s (MFSO) last meeting at the White House was August 27th 2015. We discussed ending our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high rate of military suicides and VA care. The very next morning we learned that Tyler Westbrook, son of WVMFSO representative, Marcia Westbrook, committed suicide at his home. Tyler was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado.
We immediately informed our WH contact who was very sympathetic stating that a request would be made for a letter of condolence from the President.
A few days later, our contact informed us that this letter would not be sent because Tyler died “stateside”. We were informed that it is the policy of the Department of Defense that only active service members who die by suicide while deployed can be sent a letter of condolence from the President.
How can such a distinction be made? It is an obviously offensive and ill-conceived policy that is very painful to the families. This policy reinforces the stigma attached to suicide making these families feel less than, that their loved one’s service was unimportant and their sacrifice not respected.
After 16 months, to our surprise and with tears of joy and sadness, Marcia Westbrook received a signed letter of condolence from President Obama.
We don’t yet know if the Department of Defense changed its policy or if President Obama signed this letter because he agrees the policy is ridiculous and hurtful, causing more pain. We are in touch with the White House hoping to learn that the Department of Defense changed this awful policy so that every family whose military member dies by suicide is entitled to receive a presidential condolence letter.