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LEXINGTON, Ky. The widow of a Marine is suing the U.S. government, claiming two Veterans Affairs facilities refused to provide her husband with psychiatric help hours before he took his life.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the suit seeks $22.5 million in damages for 22-year-old widow Tiffany Anestis and the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Isabelle, in the death of Marine Corps reservist Cameron Anestis.
Anestis was 21 when fatally shot himself at his Scott County home on Aug. 17, 2009.
The suit claims he developed mental and emotional problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, after extensive combat in Iraq.
Shortly before his death, Cameron Anestis went to a Lexington VA medical center for a mental health evaluation and treatment, but he was told the treatment was not available there, according to the suit.
Officials directed him to a second VA hospital in the city where he was again turned away, this time because the hospital did not have sufficient information in its computer system or admission system to entitle him to treatment.
Plaintiff's attorney Al Grasch said Anestis' family was told that a form to enroll him in the VA system was not properly completed by military officials. But Grasch said the explanation was odd because Anestis had previously received care at a VA in California.
The lawsuit claims the negligence of VA officials directly led to Anestis' death.
Lexington VA medical center spokeswoman Desti Stimes told the paper she could not comment on the pending litigation.
But Grasch provided the Herald-Leader with a copy of an Aug. 21, 2009, VA intranet blog titled "A Battle Lost." It was posted by someone listed as a Lexington VA administrator and talks about a young reservist who killed himself after seeking treatment. It mentions that changes are being made because of what happened.
Grasch said Anestis was an outgoing young man before serving in Iraq. He attended The Citadel military school in South Carolina before enlisting in the Marines, becoming a lance corporal.
"He was a strong believer in doing what was right and he saw himself as a 'protector' of those less fortunate or those who were not capable of standing up for themselves," father Manny Anestis wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.
Tiffany Anestis said the couple met in high school ROTC class. They both joined the military in 2007. She joined the National Guard. They married in 2008 and their daughter was born just before his deployment.
"I was induced a week early so he could be here to see her," she said. "He only had a week with her before he left for Iraq."
After he returned, Cameron Anestis told his family he had killed many people, including some civilians, Grasch said. Anestis became withdrawn, was extremely impatient and had temper outbursts.
Manny Anestis said the memories of what his son experienced haunted him and wouldn't allow him to get close to his daughter.
"He couldn't bond with her," Manny Anestis said. "He couldn't even be around Isabelle when she would cry. He would hand her to me and jump in his car and drive off."
Tiffany Anestis, who moved to Lexington after her husband's death, said she still supports the military.
"I just think they fail their soldiers sometimes when they come back from overseas," she said. "I think they forget about them. I don't understand it."
The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington. Tiffany Anestis is asking the court for $10 million in damages for Cameron Anestis' estate for his pain and suffering, funeral expenses and loss of earnings, and $5 million for herself and $7.5 million for her daughter for their "loss of companionship, services, love and affection."