Roxy Todd, Jessica Lilly Published

Still Counting Casualties Inside Appalachia: How Invisible Scars Lead To Veteran Suicide

Four male soldiers dressed for combat in Iraq.
Jeremy Harrison and 459th Soldiers in Iraq.
Courtesy Jeremy Harrison

Suicide is a major problem for veterans all across the country. But the problem is even worse in rural areas, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). On this week’s episode, veterans in West Virginia share their stories about what it’s like to return home from war, and what veterans are doing to help and support each other.

The number of veterans who die by suicide is staggering. A 2012 study from the VA found that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, though a new study by the VA says the rate is probably closer to 20 per day.

For veterans, who have seen and done things we civilians can scarcely imagine, it can be difficult to find someone that understands their pain.

Some veterans say they’ve found some healing by helping their fellow veterans.

This episode features the voices of five of these veterans who were featured in a recent West Virginia Public Broadcasting documentary called Still Taking Casualties.

  • Damien Gavis, who accompanied special forces to rural towns to build relationships in Afghanistan.
  • Mark Combs, a veteran and the host of a recent documentary entitled “Still Taking Casualties.”
  • Christopher Morris, a Corporal who suffered a traumatic brain injury who came back, went to college, and lost his veteran roommate to suicide.
  • Sarah Leifeit, a veteran who served for twelve years and two tours, one if Iraq and one in Afghanistan, who was sexually assaulted.
  • Jeremy Harrison, a veteran who has tried to help his fellow brothers and sisters in arms by becoming a therapist.
We’ll also remember the life of veteran Tyler Burroughs, a close friend of Mark Combs who helped put together the documentary Still Taking Casualties. Burroughs took his life this summer.

Moral Injury

And our host Jessica Lilly speaks with Pulitzer Prize Winning writer Eric Newhouse, author of Faces of Combat.

We’ll hear what the VA is doing to partner with non-profits in West Virginia to reach more veterans in rural areas.

Veterans in rural areas are more likely to commit suicide than veterans in urban areas.

It is possible that this problem is due to the lack of accessibility to help in rural areas. This episode also explains how modern technology and the internet is being used to create discussion, counsel and help when there previously was none. Suicide is the most tragic of all preventable deaths, and it something that we all can help prevent. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the VA crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting has a new app for veterans to share their story and connect with each other, called The War in My Words. Watch or listen to veteran stories. Discover what other West Virginia vets have experienced. You can sort by war, branch of service, unit or year.

Music in this episode was provided by Dylan McGonicle and Michael Hitchcock. Our producer is Roxy Todd. Our editors this week were Catherine Moore and Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Zander Aloi.