I. Name: Jeffrey C. Hackett
II. Rank: Major
III. Country Served: United States
IV. Service: United States Marine Corps
V. Conflict: Second Persian Gulf War (Global War on Terrorism)
VI. Related News Items:
from The Washington Post:
Widow of Marine who committed suicide to receive life insurance claim
The Department of Veterans Affairs has reversed its decision to deny a life insurance claim to a Marine who committed suicide in 2010 following a long and largely hidden struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Marine Maj. Jeff Hackett was the subject of a front-page story last month in The Washington Post that chronicled his troubles and the VA’s decision to deny the $400,000 claim to his widow and four sons.
During his 26 years of active-duty service, Hackett had paid premiums on his life insurance policy through Prudential Financial. But after he left the military in 2008, he stopped making the payments, allowing the policy to lapse.
His widow and other advocates, including John Dowd, a prominent Washington lawyer enlisted to help in the family’s cause, contended that Hackett was struggling with mental illness and therefore a casualty of war deserving of federal assistance.
The case hinged on the extent of Hackett’s disability at the time of his discharge from the Marines. A provision in the federal law allows troops who are “totally disabled” to receive exemptions from paying their life insurance premium for as long as three years after leaving the military. The VA had ruled that Hackett had been gainfully employed at an oil refinery, meaning he was not totally disabled.
This week, however, the VA informed Dowd of its decision in a letter, saying that it had reviewed supplemental information in the case and concluded that “Major Jeffrey C. Hackett was totally disabled from February 29, 2008 until June 5, 2010.”
The decision means that Hackett’s wife, Danelle Hackett, will now receive the claim.
“VA has examined the evidence thoroughly and thoughtfully — in accordance with all appropriate laws and regulations, including the resolution of any reasonable doubt in the claimant’s favor — to reach this decision,” the agency said in a statement. “While we can never fully repay Major Hackett and his family for their service and sacrifice, our hope is that this resolution will provide some measure of peace and comfort.”
In an interview, Danelle Hackett said she was overwhelmed by the news, and grateful that the VA was able to “actually look at a problem and try to fix it.”
“I’m hoping our case will help someone else out there who has gone through the VA system. . . to let them know there’s hope,” she said.
Dowd, a former Marine, and a team of lawyers from the Akin Gump law firm spent more than two years advocating on behalf of the Hackett family after being contacted by Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, who had learned of Hackett’s case.
The lawyers recently interviewed some of Hackett’s fellow employees at the oil refinery where he worked after leaving the Marines and convinced the VA that he was a “sheltered employee” who struggled because of his mental illness but was protected by his fellow employees. The additional supplemental evidence convinced the VA that Hackett was “totally disabled” and that therefore his widow was eligible for the insurance payment.
After the VA’s decision, Amos e-mailed Dowd and his team: “Congratulations . . . and on behalf of all Marines and their families . . . THANK YOU!!!”
Staff writer Steve Vogel contributed to this report.
Read more on this story:
And this, related, cited, also from The Washington Post:
Marine’s suicide is only start of family’s struggle
For most of his 26 years in the military, Maj. Jeff Hackett was a standout Marine. Two tours in Iraq destroyed him.
Home from combat, he drank too much, suffered public breakdowns and was hospitalized for panic attacks. In June 2010, he killed himself.
Hackett’s suicide deeply troubled Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Hackett had been plucked from the enlisted ranks to lead Marines as an officer. He left behind a widow, four sons and more than $460,000 in debts. To Amos, Hackett was a casualty of war — surely the family deserved some compensation from the federal government.
Amos asked John Dowd, a prominent Washington lawyer who had represented Sen. John McCain, for help. “There is absolutely no doubt that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress,” Amos wrote to Dowd. “NONE WHAT SO EVER!”
“We will raise as much hell as we can,” Dowd, a former Marine, wrote back to Amos.
Almost two years later, the high-level intercession by the Marine commandant and the Washington lawyer has produced little from the federal government for Hackett’s widow. The inability of Dowd to wrest any money from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the limits of what the federal government can do for families of service members who kill themselves as a result of mental trauma caused by war.
Dowd and a team of nine lawyers have fought unsuccessfully for the last 18 months to convince the VA and Prudential Financial Inc., which administers a life insurance program for veterans, to pay a $400,000 claim to Danelle Hackett. The life insurance premiums were automatically deducted from Hackett’s paycheck for 26 years when he was on active duty.
If Hackett had been killed in battle or committed suicide before he retired in 2008, his wife would have received the $400,000 from the policy. But Hackett left the military and, amid mounting personal crises, let the policy lapse.
A provision in the current law allows troops who suffer from mental or physical wounds that render them incapable of “substantially gainful employment” to receive exemptions from paying the premium for as long as three years after leaving the military. That three-word phrase — “substantially gainful employment” — is the linchpin of Hackett’s case and potentially hundreds of others.
The VA, which failed to diagnose Hackett’s mental illness when he was alive, concedes that the Marine died of “severe and chronic” post-traumatic stress disorder connected to his service in Iraq. The agency, however, rejected the insurance claim.
After he left the Marines, Hackett held a menial job at an oil refinery for 15 months. He was laid off from the position about nine months before he committed suicide and was unable to find another job.
To the VA, the job is proof that Hackett — despite his severe mental illness — could work, care for himself and make the premium payments. He was not “totally disabled,” according to the VA. Prudential declined to comment on the case.
Danelle Hackett, his widow, disagrees. Before Hackett deployed to Iraq he was known in the Marine Corps for his goofy sense of humor. He coached his sons’ sports teams, took them camping and fishing, and rarely got angry, she said.