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Wednesday July 06, 2011 | 04:45 PM

Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, Maine Democrats from the 1st and 2nd congressional districts respectively, both lauded President Obama’s decision to reverse the policy of not sending condolence letters to families of soldiers who commit suicide while deployed in a combat zone.

Obama said in a statement today that, “This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely.  They didn’t die because they were weak.”

The president added that, “The fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.  Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”

Obama made the right decision, said Michaud, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Pingree, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, in separate statements.

“Mainers have written to me concerned about this policy, and I’m glad it’s being reversed,” Michaud said. “Every family that loses a loved one in service to our country deserves a letter of condolence from their president. This policy change is very welcome news.”

War takes an incredible toll on the men and women in uniform and sometimes they aren’t given the care they deserve,” Pingree said. “These service men and women served our country, their families deserve our gratitude and sympathy and they should not be forgotten.”

Michaud noted that he has worked for a number of years on the issue of suicide veterans and active service members, helping write legislation that became law in 2007 that required the VA secretary to put a program into effect aimed at reducing the incidence of suicide among veterans. Michaud also has called on the Department of Defense to conduct mandatory, face-to-face confidential screenings to examine veterans’ mental health status and probe for traumatic brain injuries.

“Suicide rates remain unacceptably high among active duty service members and our veterans,” Michaud said. “Many of our brave men and women who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. With proper screening and treatment, the warning signs of suicide can be caught and proper treatment can be ordered.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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