Federal Lawsuit: Black Vietnam Vet Died In 2019 After Being Bitten Hundreds of Times by Fire Ants In Atlanta VA Facility

Joel Marrable was making peace with loved ones and preparing for his final days of his life.

The ex-Air Force airman and Vietnam War veteran was in the late stages of a bout with metastatic lung cancer. He moved to the Atlanta area to be closer to family and was a resident in the Eagles Nest Community Living Center, a long-term veterans care facility in Decatur, Georgia.

Joel Marrable and his daughter Laquna Ross in the Eagles Nest Community Living Center in Decatur, Georgia. (Photo provided Josh Sacks)

A doctor had given Marrable just months to live. Despite his health complications, the 73-year-old man had a second lease on life. He was in good spirits and making plans to transition into a place where he could spend his finals days in comfort surrounded by loved ones. He enjoyed spending time with his daughter, Laquna Ross, who visited him regularly at the care center.

He accompanied Ross on a family trip to the Bahamas in May 2019 and told loved ones “I am doing a lot better now” over the subsequent summer months. Marrable was also waiting for a book of poems he’d written to be published.

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But his plans to die in peace came to a screeching halt when he was twice attacked by a colony of fire ants that bit him more than 100 times all over his body, his family’s legal claim contends.

For months, fire ants swarmed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-run nursing home in which Marrable was a live-in patient. And the VA did little to the remove the insects, according to a federal lawsuit recently filed by Marrable’s family.

The infestation came to a head when the fire ants crept into Marrable’s bedroom on two separate occasions in September 2019, occupying the ceiling and walls before crawling into the man’s bed and ravaging his body, the family claims. The fire ants left red legions all over Marrable’s hands, arms and torso, which put him in agonizing pain. He died two days after the second attack.

Now Marrable’s family is suing the federal government and the exterminator tasked to rid the VA facility of the fire ants for $20 million.

“The family is determined to raise awareness about the treatment of the veterans at these facilities and make sure that things such as this don’t happen again to any other veterans,” one of the family’s attorneys, Josh Sacks, told Atlanta Black Star. “That’s their dual goal in pursuing the claim, and I think they have a keen interest in making sure that their father, who served honorably in the Air Force, is remembered with dignity and respect.”

Marrable’s three surviving children — Ross, Raquel Reed and Jamal Ratchford — filed the wrongful death complaint against the United States government Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Multinational pest control brand Orkin and its parent company Rollins, Inc., were also named as defendants. Orkin was contracted as Eagles Nest Community Living Center exterminator when fire ants infested and overran the Atlanta facility in 2019.

Sacks and Brewster Rawls, a Richmond, Virginia, attorney, are representing the family in the civil claim.

According to the lawsuit, Orkin was negligent in its failure to subdue the fire ant infestation. Attorneys allege staff at Eagles Nest knew about the pest control issue as early as February 2019. Food was left out in patients’ rooms for days without being sealed or removed.