SAN ANTONIO -- New statistics show an alarmingly high risk of suicide for war veterans in college. The just-released university study shows nearly half of all military vet college students have thought about suicide, and a fifth of them have planned to kill themselves.
As nearly 2 Million veterans return home from deployment overseas, researchers say the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will have a big impact on college campuses. Researchers say universities will need to come up with a plan to recognize and treat combat-related trauma.
William Dawson went back to school after twenty years in the Army, and seven deployments. He knows the challenges war veterans face when they come back and transition into college life.
"Post traumatic stress disorder, adjustment issues," Dawson explained, among others.
Transitioning veterans, often in their 20's or older, enter college classrooms alongside 18-year-olds who may be insenstive to their wartime experience.
"They may say things that aren't appropriate like, 'did you kill somebody?'" explained Dawson. "Who wants to hear that?"
Dawson says the inability to relate, along with other struggles with family and finances may contribute to the startling new statistics. Among college war veterans:
46 % Thought about suicide
20 % Planned suicide
7.7 % Attempted suicide
The attempted suicide rate is seven times higher than the rate for college students in general.
"It's very alarming," commented Dr. Craig Bryan, Assistant Professor at U.T. Health Science Center. Bryan is an Iraq vet himself. And as one of the study's three researchers, he says the findings surprised even him.
"When we first ran the numbers, and we saw the high rates, we actually thought we had maybe, made a mistake," said Bryan.
But there was no mistake about it. "So the next step that we're looking at from a research program is now, are colleges ready for this?" asked Bryan.
Officials at UTSA say they are prepared to take a proactive approach. Of their 30,000 students, about 40% of those who walk into the counseling center for help are veterans or their family members.
"We can help them in adjusting to campus, and feel more connected to the campus environment," explained Dr. Thomas Baez, Director of UTSA's Counseling Center.
"There is hope," added Jeff Gatlin, a staff clinician. "The thoughts they're experiencing, and the difficulties they're experiencing are treatable."
Many community resources are available to help. The Student Veterans Association at UTSA is a local outreach organization that advocates specifically for student veterans. Even vet students who attend other colleges can contact the group for support and other resources. Click here