Keesling fights for families of soldiers lost to suicide

Keesling fights for families of soldiers lost to suicide

The Chancellor A. Keesling Recycling and Reentry Facility run by Workforce Inc. is hard to miss if you’re traveling down Sherman Drive in a mostly residential area of Indianapolis’ East Side. The building, situated in a small industrial corridor, stands as a kind of beacon for residents seeking to drop off standard recyclables — glass, plastic, aluminum and so on — as well as consumer electronics. The center that debuted in October 2009 is named after Chancellor Keesling, the late son of Workforce’s founder, Gregg Keesling.

Chance, as he was known affectionately to his family, died in Iraq on June 19, 2009. The 25-year-old Army specialist was on his second deployment to Iraq when he shot himself. Keesling says his son suffered mental health problems related to his redeployment and relationship issues back home.

Since his son’s death, Keesling began advocating for the families of military suicides. He’s campaigning to change an unwritten policy that excludes family members of military suicide victims from receiving a letter of condolence the president sends to honor troops who die of combat injuries.

“[T]he recognition of the president could have a profound impact on the family of the suicide victim,” Keesling wrote in an August 2009 letter to President Obama. “[W]e beseech you to reach out to military families who have lost a son or daughter to suicide. Please change the policy and give families the dignity they deserve.”

His efforts have garnered him media coverage from news outlets like CNN and The New York Times and inspired the White House to review the policy, which dates to the Clinton era.

Keesling says he’s been buoyed by the outpouring of support he received after Chance’s death, including encouragement from the former prisoners who are part of Workforce’s job transition program. When they heard about Keesling’s loss, they voted to name the soon-to-be opened recycling center after Chance, a gesture Keesling counts among the most meaningful that occurred.

“It is so poignant that folks would do something like this in spite of all the barriers in front of them,” Keesling says. “So while we wait for the president to change the condolence policy, we have been comforted by the actions of persons many in our society have forgotten. I know Chance is smiling about that one!”


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