Dear President Barack Obama,
Recently when a candidate for President of the United States disrespected Gold Star Parents, Military Families Speak Out sent this statement to the press.
“Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) members are outraged by the recent attack by Presidential candidate Donald Trump on Gold Star parents Ghazala and Khizr Khan whose son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq. MFSO is an organization of family members whose loved ones have served or are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some of our members have loved ones who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan or have died by suicide. While MFSO members oppose military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we love and support our troops. We honor our soldiers and Marines. Mr. Khan bravely talked about the need for the Commander in Chief to have respect, understanding and empathy for the sacrifices and suffering of our troops and their families. Donald Trump has clearly shown by his disrespectful and despicable attack on a Gold Star family that he does not possess the key qualities we believe are necessary to be this country’s Commander in Chief of our armed forces.”
MFSO members find ourselves in a position similar to that of the Khan family. We are being disrespected by the Department of Defense policy regarding loved ones in the military who have died by suicide. On August 27, 2015, members of MFSO, Veterans For Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War met with the Office of Public Engagement and Joining Forces regarding our opposition to military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our call for diplomacy, and our concerns about care for our veterans and military families. Two members of our delegation, Joyce and Kevin Lucey, spoke at the meeting about their son, CPL Jeffrey Lucey, who died by suicide after he was denied care by the VA. We spoke at the meeting about our recommendations for changes to prevent suicide.
This was the third meeting of Military Families Speak Out with the Office of Public Engagement. Each time we had requested to meet directly with you. In 2009, we were told that you really should meet with us because you and White House staff are “in a bubble,” but that you were too busy. We understand that you are very busy, but such a meeting is long overdue.
On August 28, Marcia Westbrook, a member of the Steering Committee of MFSO, called in distress to tell us that her son, SFC Tyler Westbrook died by suicide. When we called to tell people from the White House meeting the day before, they were very sympathetic. We were asked to get the address of the Westbrook family so that you, Mr. President, could send a letter of condolence. We did provide that information.
As one of our MFSO members left to go to Williamstown, West Virginia for the funeral several days later, she received a call from the Office of Public Engagement that Department of Defense policy would not allow a letter of condolence to be sent because SFC Westbrook died by suicide while stationed in the United States. If he had died by suicide while deployed abroad, a letter could be sent. We were outraged. How could we tell that to the family?
It is a despicable policy which shows absolutely NO empathy, and NO understanding for our troops, veterans, or military families. It only reinforces the stigma already rampant in the military, the stigma attached to our troops and veterans reaching out for and receiving help for the moral injuries and/or traumas from their military service. We know that alcohol abuse and steroid use was rampant at Ft. Carson where SFC Westbrook was based. We know that SFC Westbrook was a victim of alcohol abuse, and we know there were numerous other red flags which were overlooked by the military. SFC Westbrook was an highly accomplished soldier, and was a member of the Special Forces when he died. SFC Westbrook left behind a wife and a 2-year-old son. His two brothers are also members of the military. Both of his grandparents were WW II veterans.
For nearly one year we have waited patiently for the DOD policy to be reversed. We expected that the Department of Defense policy would have been be reversed by now since August 28th is the first anniversary of SFC Tyler Westbrook’s death. We expect the Westbrook family will receive the letter of condolence from you soon.
Pat Alviso, Military Families Speak Out National Coordinator
Paula Rogovin, Military Families Speak Out, coordinator of White House delegation of August 27, 2015
Marcia Westbrook, mother of SFC Tyler Westbrook, Steering Committee, Military Families Speak Out