Navy Seal’s Death No Suicide, Widow Says

     NORFOLK, Va (CN) – The widow of a traumatized Navy Seal sued Unum Life Insurance Company of America in Federal Court after they denied life-insurance benefits on one of two policies based on a suicide clause.
     Jennifer Mullen Collins sued Unum in the Eastern District of Virginia for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act after the company refused to honor her husband’s supplemental life-insurance policy, believing he had committed suicide.
     Special Operations Chief David M. Collins served a 20-year career as a Navy Seal, deployed on multiple grueling back-to-back tours of duty in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq. As a result of the traumatic experiences he endured in service to his country, he developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, post-traumatic stress disorder and major-depressive disorder, the complaint states.
     During his 20-year career as a Navy Seal, Collins was exposed to multiple blasts and experienced multiple injuries due to combat and combat training. He also suffered multiple concussions.
     Upon returning home from his tours of duty, SOC Collins became employed with Blackbird Technologies and in September 2012 he was provided with Unum basic group life insurance for $104,000 and a supplemental policy for $500,000, according to the complaint.
     In February 2014 Collins sought treatment at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth for his diminished mental abilities. He exhibited symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia and memory and concentration problems.
     Doctors diagnosed Collins with depressive and anxiety disorders. After two therapy sessions at a counseling center, doctors also diagnosed him with PTSD and major-depressive disorder.
     Less than a week later, Collins died “due to the diseases he developed during his service to his country,” the complaint states.
     Five different doctors evaluated Collins’ mental state and each concluded that he was suffering from CTE, PTSD and/or MDD before and at the time of his death. According to the Boston University Center, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem based on an examination of the fontal lobes of the brain.
     Dr. Robert Hines evaluated Collins on Feb. 13, 2014 and concluded that “the injuries he sustained through his career during combat and combat training, likely decreased his mental capabilities and made him susceptible to intense feelings of hopelessness and directly impacted his decision to end his life,” the complaint says.
     Collins’ wife submitted a timely claim for payment of the life insurance benefits under the basic and supplemental policies for $104,000 and $500,000. Both policies were in effect on the date of Collins’ death, according to the complaint.
     A week later, Unum denied the supplemental policy for $500,000, asserting the suicide exclusion in the policy prohibited recovery. The company did, however, pay on the basic policy of $104,000 despite the fact that both policies had the same suicide exclusion language, the complaint says.
     Despite appeals to Unum and medical evidence supporting that Collins’ brain was damaged due to trauma, Unum still refuses to honor the supplemental policy benefits, the widow says in the complaint.
     She adds that doctors say Collins “was not able to inform the intent to commit suicide at the time of his death, and/or was not sane at the time of his death.”
     Fourth Circuit law holds that suicide requires intent that Unum cannot prove, according to the complaint.
     Collins’ widow wants the court to order Unum to pay out the supplemental policy, as well as pre- and post-judgment interest.
     She is represented by Gregory Stillman of the firm Hunton & Williams in Norfolk, Virginia.
     Both Unum and the Collins’ attorney were unavailable for comment.

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