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West Palm Beach VA Medical Center 'failed' veteran who died by suicide, lawsuit says

This is a case about not listening to the needs of a Marine veteran who was reaching out to get help
Posted at 7:38 PM, Jul 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-27 20:46:32-04

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — Brenda Marles flipped through a scrapbook of pictures of a date when she remembers falling in love with a man in uniform.  

"That was the Marine Corps Ball," Brenda Marles said as she showed WPTV the photos. "And everyone says that was the moment they knew we'd be together forever." 

But their forever lasted two years of dating and four years of marriage.  

Marine Veteran Sgt. Rico Marles had suffered from PTSD when he took his life in 2021, just days before his 30th birthday.  

Rico Marles died by suicide in 2021 following a bout with PTSD.
Rico Marles died by suicide in 2021 following a bout with PTSD.

His wife is now suing the veteran's administration for wrongful death.  

Rico Marles was a helicopter mechanic during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.  

According to the lawsuit, Rico Marles' performance review labeled him, "a true leader," whose "professionalism and conduct as a Marine are above reproach."  

After leaving the service, he continued working in that profession, then started his own business and planned to start a family.  

"You can be smiling and still have PTSD," Brenda Marles said, noting her husband seemed happy on the outside. "You can be a vivacious, magnanimous person and still have PTSD and anxiety." 

Brenda Marles describes the heartbreak of losing her husband to suicide and why she is suing the West Palm Beach VA.
Brenda Marles describes the heartbreak of losing her husband to suicide and why she is suing the West Palm Beach VA.

For treatment of his PTSD and anxiety, Brenda Marles said her husband sought help at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.  

"The responses were usually, 'here's a pamphlet,' and that was the response we normally got," Brenda Marles said.  

According to her lawsuit, he went to the VA in January 2021 complaining "of anxiety, hallucinations, chest pain, insomnia, night sweats, and 'having crazy dreams.'"  

The suit claims his PTSD was triggered in part by the Jan. 6 siege on the nation’s capital days earlier.  

But after two visits to the West Palm Beach VA, the suit claims Rico Marles told his wife, "he did not believe anyone in the [Emergency Department] took his complaints seriously." Instead, "he felt 'brushed off.'"  

After returning from his second VA visit, Brenda Marles said she fell asleep next to her husband. Then heard, "the sound of a pop."  

Rico Marles shot himself.  

Peter Bertling discusses why his law firm is suing the West Palm Beach VA following the death of Rico Marles.
Peter Bertling discusses why his law firm is suing the West Palm Beach VA following the death of Rico Marles.

"I went to the VA the day after my husband died, and I asked, 'What am supposed to do?' and the silence was something that still haunts me now," she said.

Brenda Marles said her husband's suicide left her diagnosed with PTSD.  

"This is a nightmare that I'm not going to wake up from," she said.  

She filed suit against the VA last month.  

"This is a case about not listening to the needs of a Marine veteran who was reaching out to get help," Peter Bertling, Brenda Marles' lawyer, said.  

In the lawsuit, Bertling references a recorded Zoom meeting with Brenda Marles and VA officials nine months after Rico's death.  

From that Zoom call, Bertling quotes the West Palm Beach VA's chief of staff telling her they, "failed the veteran, end of story," and "we let [Rico] down."  

Bertling also quotes from that call, the facility's chief psychiatrist: "(Professionals) 'missed the boat' when it came to appropriately evaluating the causes of Rico's anxiety."

"Now what becomes important, is they make the change that is necessary to prevent that from happening again," Bertling said.  

Contact 5 Investigative Reporter Dave Bohman asked the West Palm Beach VA for comment.  

A spokesperson asked WPTV to email the U.S. Justice Department. The email has not been answered.  

"It doesn't make sense to me that he walked through the doors and told you exactly what he needed and didn't receive help," Brenda Marles said.

She hopes her lawsuit improves care and awareness for veterans and their families struggling with PTSD.  

"Everyone loves to say, 'time heals,'" Brenda Marles said, "but every single day that passes is a day I don't have my husband." 

If you're a veteran or know one wrestling with mental health issues, you can dial 988 and then press 1.  

Veterans can also text 838255 for help.  

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