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Identifying the Signs: Military Students at Risk

Dr. Pietro Savo -- With many service members leaving the military ranks and beginning their academic journeys at colleges and universities nationwide, two leading sources address the pressing need for academic leadership to understand suicide warning signs and the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among these new students.

Today, headlines in the media are dominated by politics, economic doom and gloom, the jobless rate, and citizens of other countries being murdered by their dictator leaders. However, the headline we should all be paying more attention to is the one that appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune last year: “More soldier suicides than combat deaths in 2012.” The soldiers of the U.S. military are defending and protecting all of the United States’ interests across our entire planet, only to come home and kill themselves. With these new students landing in colleges and universities nationwide, academic leadership needs to understand suicide warning signs.

Since World War II and up until recently, U.S. military suicide rates have been lower than civilian rates, and wartime suicide rates in the military have historically dropped. Yet in 2008, the military suicide rate exceeded the civilian rate for people between 17 to 30 years of age, according to the study “Army Suicides: ‘Knowns’ and an Interpretative Framework for Future Directions.” With both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, something dynamic transformed our U.S. military service members and increased the military suicide rates. signs are always there; it’s just a matter of making leadership accountable in regards to directing treatment. Bloxom is a former Staff Sergeant and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran currently pursuing a higher education with hopeful ambitions of attending Rutgers University’s joint JD/MBA program. As an influx of U.S. military war veterans joins the ranks of higher education, we as educators have an obligation to support our heroes when they need us to do our part.

Many service members are leaving the military ranks and beginning their academic journeys due to the availability of education benefits they have earned while serving our nation. With these new students landing in colleges and universities nationwide, academic leadership needs to understand suicide warning signs. Here are some common suicide warning signs taken from, an organization dedicated to preventing suicide:

-- Previous suicide attempt or behavior that has led to self-injury
-- Somatic symptoms, including sleep and pain complaints
-- Stressors such as marital or intimate relationship issues, legal, housing, and occupational problems
-- Current or pending disciplinary or legal action
-- Substance misuse
-- Problems with a major life transition (e.g., retirement, discharge, divorce, etc.)
-- Loss of a fellow warrior
-- Setbacks in military career or personal life
-- Severe, prolonged stress that seems unmanageable
-- Sense of powerlessness, helplessness or hopelessness
-- Behavior that isolates service members from friends, family members and educators

What is important to understand is that someone need not be an expert in suicide prevention to prevent a suicide. The key is to have open eyes, communicate relentlessly and help the person rediscover that suicide can never be an option. Kevin Caruso from stated that 75 percent of those who die by suicide have some suicide warning signs. Our motivation must first be to save that 75 percent.

Suicide prevention

Suicide prevention should never be the responsibility of the experts; suicide is the responsibility of all. When we witness someone exhibiting suicide warning signs, we need to do everything we can to help them. Today, with the Internet and social media, a simple Google search provides endless ways to get help. Social networking websites for suicide prevention can connect people with common experiences. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention Facebook pages provide links to suicide prevention websites and hotlines, as well as information about the warning signs of suicide. The power of communicating through social media can help us become more current with our reality. Today, social media is sharing ideas, valuable information and solutions at speeds that no organization could possibly hope to match. Colleges and universities can also benefit from this limitless communication tool.

Every college and university has an internal suicide prevention reporting structure and resource. Research the resources in your community and have this information available before you need it. Education from these sources is the best way help identify and prevent such a significant public health problem among U.S. military service members who are now enrolled at or entering colleges and universities nationwide.

Many universities’ suicide prevention programs engage in deploying various technological mechanisms, including online training courses, social networking and the sheer power of social media. Using the power of technology, we are releasing the integral aspects of a comprehensive suicide prevention program.

This article is by no means a conclusion but only one chapter in encouraging suicide prevention. As best said by Bloxom, “The problem to avoid is becoming an example at the next suicide awareness briefing.

Our goal as educators is to use the unlimited power of knowledge to reduce or eliminate suicide examples. We have become a key component to the solution regardless if we are ready or not, and we are now a part of the first line of defense for preventing soldier suicides.

Short list of suicide prevention resources:

-- Veterans Crisis Line: 1.800.273.8255, Press 1
-- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255)

Dr. Pietro Savo, is President of Mont Vernon Group, a veteran owned business; CLO of minority-owned Daniel Penn Associates; and Chief R&D Officer of woman-owned Monaco Consulting. Savo specializes in business strategy optimization in the manufacturing and education industries. During his 18 years with United Technologies, he co-founded the Cure Team, a Sikorsky Aircraft failure analysis clinic and specializes in Root Cause Analysis. A certified professor at Ito University with degrees from Jones International University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Sacred Heart, and Dartmouth, Savo has lectured at leading technology corporations including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Northup Grumman, and Raytheon. Savo also writes extensively for American Writer, A Positive Thinking Movement, and author of Perfection. "Identifying the Signs: Military Students at Risk," originally published in Career College Central Magazine, May 2013. Visit his site at and his blog at for more information.

© 2013 Dr. Pietro Savo

The following information is provided by Central Texas College. It addresses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder an Traumatic Brain Injury among returning soldiers, along with possible side effects, including suicidal thoughts, caused by prescribed medications. CTC is heavily involved in helping military veterans transition into the civilian environment.

Prescription Medication and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

There are two more possible reasons for the rise of suicides in military members. The first is the abuse of prescription medication and the lack of prescription monitoring. The second highlight would be the invisible wounds of war commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The mitigation of these two risk factors alone could possibly reduce suicidal ideations and attempts.

Many service members returning from combat are suffering from physical as well as mental wounds for which they are prescribed medication. The medication is prescribed to treat chronic pain and antidepressants for emotional disorders such as PTSD. Most of these post suicidal ideations as a possible side effect on the label. Yet, they are issued the meds and sent on their way with no system in place to monitor.

Let’s say a service member is injured in combat. Upon arrival home, he is treated for his injuries and prescribed several pain medications to include ultram, lyrica, and hydrocodone, all of which affect nerve receptors and have possible suicidal side effects. He is also prescribed antidepressants like Paxil and Zoloft to treat symptoms of PTSD. All of these drugs have the same side effects. The combination of these drugs and the fact he lives alone, cannot sleep at night due to night terrors, and then consumes alcohol in order to get to sleep set the stage for disaster. Most people living with PTSD report the symptoms (restlessness, hyper-vigilance, worthlessness and feelings of guilt) worsening in the evening time when they are inactive.

People in the military who suffer more than one mild traumatic brain injury face a significantly higher risk of suicide, according to research by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. The risk of suicidal thoughts increased significantly with the number of TBIs, even when controlling for other psychological factors. (Bryan & Clemons, 2013)

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not officially recognized as a clinical condition until 1980, it was called "battle fatigue" or "shell shock" in wars prior to Vietnam. Because of this, veterans were not afforded the proper treatment and education on how to cope with this condition. Research has proved that veterans who exhibit symptoms are more likely to talk with fellow veterans who have like experiences versus talking to their leadership for fear of the stigma associated. Suicides among active-duty military personnel averaged one per day in 2012, the highest rate since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began a decade ago. Veterans now account for 20 percent of suicides in the U.S., with the youngest (24 and under) taking their lives at four times the rate of other veteran age groups.

A majority of those committing suicide are primarily returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Shocking PTSD, suicide rates for vets, 2012) David Rudd, a military suicide researcher and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, told AP that he is not optimistic about further anti-suicide developments. “Actually, we may continue to see increases,” Rudd explained, adding that Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans commit suicides because of PTSD, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, while those not deployed take their lives because of problems with relationships, finances or the law.


Shocking PTSD, suicide rates for vets, (2013, June), Retrieved from

Bryan, C., and Clemans, T., (2013, May) Repeat Brain Injury Raises Soldiers' Suicide Risk (2013, May). Retrieved from

US Military suicides continue to climb, reaching record in 2012, (2013, Jan). Retrieved from

© 2013 Central Texas College

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