Widow can pursue malpractice claim for returned Marine who committed suicide after being denied care
Cameron Anestis served 8 months in the Marine Corps in Iraq. He was "changed" when he came home, and after several stormy weeks, his young wife and his parents pushed him to seek VA help. He didn't have a copy of his DD-214, so the VA did not immediately approve him for care. After a "breakdown" on a Sunday, he went to the nearest Clinic the following morning, where the admission clerk recognized that he was in an emergent state, but did not follow the VA policy of finding clinical help or an ambulance transport. Instead, she merely referred him to another facility.
Cameron apparently drove to that facility, where he was denied help and sent home to find his DD-214. At home, he became frustrated while searching for the form, fought with his wife, and then, while she was calling 911, he used a firearm to kill himself. His family filed a Federal Tort Claim. The District Court dismisseed the Claim, at the government's request, citing the Veterans' Judicial Review Act, which prohibits the Courts from second-guessing policy decisions involving Veterans' benefits.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit rejected the government's analysis and sent the case back to the trial judge. The appellate judges pointed out that the VA had not followed its own policy for emergent treatment of patients, regardless of VA eligibility. Therefore, the case was one of alleged medical malpractice, not a policy issue regarding the processing of benefits. Even though the VA did not approve Anestis for benefits until ten days after he shot himself, the lawsuit was not based on its paper-processing defects: the claim was based on its violation of hospital standards regarding the appropriate care to be provided to emergency patients.