One Army sergeant who was wounded while serving in Iraq is using what are likely his final months of life to fight for the right of active duty service members to sue the government for medical malpractice. They are currently prohibited from suing for malpractice or negligence of any kind because of the Feres Doctrine. It’s named for a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1950.
An attorney who represents a number of service members says that the Feres Doctrine was meant to protect combat medics from being sued for malpractice. However, it has been applied far more broadly.
The Green Beret, Army Sgt. Richard Stayskal, says that doctors at an Army medical center ignored a growth in his lung on two separate visits. It wasn’t until 2017 that a civilian doctor found it, but it was too late. He now has Stage 4 terminal lung cancer.
Advocates for allowing service members to sue for malpractice by military medical professionals and facilities have made some inroads. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow exceptions for cases like the sergeant’s to move forward. The bill, the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019, now goes to the Senate.
Stayskal says, “I’m unable to continue serving downrange and overseas in that capacity, but I’m not done serving my country.”
The bill, even if it passes, wouldn’t help all service members who allege negligence by military hospitals and personnel. One woman who’s also fighting for changes to the Feres Doctrine was badly burned while working at a military hospital by a fellow employee she’d tried to warn her supervisors about. The employee ended up throwing gasoline on her, setting her on fire.
It’s important not to assume that you don’t have the right to file a malpractice suit if you’ve suffered harm due to the actions or negligence of military medical personnel. The laws are always in flux. It’s essential to talk with an attorney.