© 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Preventing Veteran Suicide Through Mutual Support Inside Appalachia

Charles Kleine
veteran Mark Combs

Our next Struggle to Stay story comes from someone who might be familiar to you -- Mark Combs. He’s a veteran who helped us produce a documentary last fall called Still Taking Casualties

The documentary features veterans speaking about how their experiences in war taught them what it means to support their fellow soldiers. 

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

This week, we'll listen to an episode from 2016, when we first heard from Mark Combs. He and four other veterans speak about the invisible scars they bring home from active duty. 

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. 

"I think it's a problem that we as soldiers have trouble understanding ourselves. You just have to deal with it the best way that you know how. Sometimes it just takes that ear. Sometimes it just takes that shoulder. Sometimes it's just, 'hey I'm here, if you ever want to talk.'"- Sarah Leifeit, a veteran who was sexually assaulted.

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

The number of veterans who die by suicide is staggering. A 2012 study from the Veterans Administration found that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, though a 2016 study by the VA says the rate is probably closer to 20 per day.

"There are so many veterans that want to take care of each other."- veteran Jeremy Harrison.

This episode features the voices of five of these veterans who were featured in 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.
  • Jeremy Harrison, a veteran who has tried to help his fellow brothers and sisters in arms by becoming a therapist.
  • Sarah Leifeit, a veteran who served for 12 years and two tours, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, who was sexually assaulted.

"You're not alone. You don't have to do this alone. Nobody's gonna judge you. You don't have to judge yourself. You can grow from it." - veteran Sarah Leifeit


Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.