"Still Taking Casualties" Puts a Face on Veteran Suicide

May 24, 2016

Iraq War veteran Mark Combs was fed up and wanted to do something. He had just answered the phone in the spring of 2014 and was told another buddy had killed himself.

Combs, a native of Beckley, was about to graduate with a degree in Theater from West Virginia University. He was studying in an acting-for-the-camera class and decided to make a television show about veteran suicide.

Twenty-two vets a day die from suicide. That number is an estimate based on only half the states reporting suicide statistics to the Veterans' Administration from 1999 to 2010.

The Washington Post conducted an extensive, nationwide poll of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the spring of 2014. Half of the vets who served said they know a fellow service member who has attempted or committed suicide. The New York Times ran articles on veteran suicide in September and December of last year. They found that the suicide rate is actually increasing, and the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs were at a loss to explain why.

But statistics are only a number, and Combs thought what was needed was a show where vets talk about suicide, not another study.  Combs wanted to put a face on these statistics.  He asked his West Virginia veteran friends who had tried to kill themselves if they would be willing to talk about it on camera. They said yes.  "Still Taking Casualities" became that show.

Christopher Morris was in the Marines when he was wounded by an IED - Improvised Explosive Device - in Helmand Province, Afghanistan with only four days left on his tour of duty. Damien Gabis was an Army combat infantryman assigned to work with the Special Forces in Afghanistan when a vehicle packed with explosives rammed his Humvee in Afghanistan. Sarah Leifeit served two tours in the Army as an ammunition specialist; one in Afghanistan and one in Irag. And Jeremy Harrison was a Reserve engineer whose company built bridges for the Marines during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Watch "Still Taking Casualties," as these veterans describe their time in the service and their experiences with re-integration during a special taping on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The show will be broadcast on West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Sunday, May 29 at 7 p.m. and re-broadcast Memorial Day at 8 p.m. on the West Virginia Channel. Web-only content and clips will be available at wvpublic.org/stories-service.