| Oleg Zabielin

Navy SEAL widow loses court bid for insurance payment

The widow of a 17-year veteran Navy SEAL who took his own life has lost her bid to secure payment on his life insurance policy.

Virginia-based Jennifer Mullen Collins argued that her late husband David Collins’ service in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere led directly to the deterioration of his mental health, then to an insane impulse culminating in the fatal self inflicted shooting in March 2014.

But a federal court ruled that his insurance company, Unum, was within its rights to deny benefits on the basis of a suicide clause contained in the policy. The insurance company was correct in determining the decorated veteran was sane at the time of his death, Judge Robert G. Doumar, of the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled.

All the material sent by the plaintiff was reviewed by a board-certified psychiatrist, who determined the father of two was sane, Doumar wrote in a judgment delivered in May.

“This finding was the result of a deliberate, principled process and supported by substantial evidence,” Doumar ruled.

“Mr. Collins’ death was a tragic loss for his family and friends,” said M.C. Guenther, Unum director of corporate communications, in an email statement Thursday.

“We stand by our decision, however, that benefits from his supplemental life insurance policy were not payable based on the suicide exclusion in his policy,” Guenther said. “This is further reinforced by the fact that the court granted summary judgment in our favor.”

The Foundation for Navy SEAL Veterans, which has supported Mullen Collins following the death of her husband, did not want to comment on the case or judgment. Mullen Collins’ lawyer did not respond to an email asking for comment and whether she intends to appeal the ruling.   

But details of the life and death of the former SEAL, and his widow’s fight for a payout on the life insurance are contained in court filings. They say Collins served in the United States Navy as a SEAL for 17 years, during which he was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. “Mr. Collins served in dangerous and stressful situations. He was exposed to enemy gunfire and blasts from mortar fire,” the papers state.

During his deployments, he was frequently sleep-deprived, a condition his colleagues linked both to the stresses of deployment, especially in enemy areas, and to his specific duties, which required him "to be constantly on guard.”

After retiring from the Navy, on or around Sept. 9, 2012, Collins began working for Blackbird Technologies.

He enrolled in two life insurance policies: a basic policy worth $104,000 and a supplemental  policy with an additional $500,000 in coverage. The first policy was honored as the premiums were paid by the company.

Through 2013 and into early 2014, family and friends became concerned about Collins' behavior. He was confused and indecisive as well as depressed and withdrawn, according to his friend Herbert ‘Ali’ Gordon Jr., also a former SEAL. He was having trouble sleeping and was worried about work.

Clinical psychologist Robert Hines examined Collins at the Naval Medical Center  in Portsmouth, Virginia, just a week before his death. He diagnosed Collins with unspecified anxiety and depressive disorders and  concluded that "the injuries he sustained throughout 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."

Collins took his own life on March 12, 2014. He was found dead in the driver's seat of his car with a gunshot wound to his head and a handgun lying between his legs.

The case turned on whether Collins knew what he was doing when he took his own life. Among the evidence parsed by the judge was a last text to his wife, where he apologized to her, said he loved her, then told her she needed to pick up their son.

He also had emailed another retired Navy SEAL, writing, "I'm in bad times bro ... please make sure my lovely wife Jennifer and children Sam and Grace are taken care of please ... hate to do this to you but you know how to get things done. Take care friend."