The Nation: A Silent Struggle For Student Veterans A startling new study shows that veterans who attend college after returning to the states are far more likely than traditional students to seriously consider and attempt suicide. Kevin Donohoe of The Nation discusses this study and what schools or states can do to help.
NPR logo The Nation: A Silent Struggle For Student Veterans

The Nation: A Silent Struggle For Student Veterans

Many veterans served their country as a way to afford college but a study shows that these students may be suffering silently. Sean Locke/ hide caption

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Sean Locke/

Many veterans served their country as a way to afford college but a study shows that these students may be suffering silently.

Sean Locke/

Kevin Donohoe is an intern at The Nation.

Veterans in college are six times more likely to attempt suicide than the typical student and more than a fifth have planned to kill themselves, a new study presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting shows..

Universities are largely unprepared to meet the educational and mental health needs of the more than one million veterans expected to enter institutions of higher education in the next decade according to the report.

"If we don't think [this] through, it's going to be a significant and very difficult problem," the study's author, M. David Rudd said. "These [mental health] numbers were far higher than anticipated" and veterans are "having dramatically more difficulty than the typical student."

The study shows that about half of veterans have contemplated killing themselves and that 82 percent of those who attempted suicide also struggled with significant post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Researchers say veterans often feel disconnected from their fellow students. This social separation, coupled with a "warrior mentality" can make seeking emotional help especially difficult.

Since the passage of the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill, the number of veterans attending college has surged. While many universities have worked to welcome and support veterans on to their campuses, the transition has not always been smooth. In Maryland, Charles Whittington, an Iraq war veteran, was suspended from the Community College of Baltimore County after he wrote a paper about his addiction to killing that college administrators found "disturbing." Other veterans have complained that fellow students are immature or constantly ask, "Did you kill anyone over there?"

Rudd says that colleges and universities need to take a number of steps to support veterans.

His report suggests creating veteran support centers on campuses, setting up special veterans orientation and training college counselors to recognize combat-related trauma. States like Maryland have already tried to enhance veterans experience by fostering greater cooperation between Veterans Affairs office and university administrators. The University of Wyoming will introduce a special transition course for veterans this fall and UMass Amherst already has a "drop-in" center for veterans.

Yet these recommendations may fall on deaf ears. As Claire Potter argues at The Chronicle of Higher Education, state governments are unlikely to fund the report's recommendations. In the past two years states have already slashed the budgets that would have provided services for student veterans "from 10 to 20 percent across the nation":

California, where we can imagine large numbers of vets matriculating because they have deployed from and will return there, is cutting between $1.3 and 1.4 billion dollars from a system that took massive cuts in the last fiscal year. North Carolina, a state that should see similar pressure because of its military bases, is cutting 15 percent from its state system alone. Private schools have also cut, and cut and cut. Texas? South Carolina? It's the same story everywhere. Furthermore, as military budgets are reduced over the next several years, do we think that veterans' benefits or weapons systems will be eliminated?