Imagine this: You enlist in the military and spend years of your life putting your blood, sweat, and tears into your nation’s future….
And then, disaster strikes. You get injured or receive a bad diagnosis. Shouldn’t your level of commitment be met with the same level of medical treatment?
America’s veterans deserve the best. Unfortunately, that’s not what they’ve been getting. Thanks in part to a lack of patients (most military hospitals serve young and healthy populations), surgeons aren’t able to keep up on their surgical skills. This causes surgeons to make more frequent medical errors.
Even worse, for the last 70 years, an active member of the military hasn’t been able to file a case for medical malpractice. Without accountability, standards are bound to slip.
Thankfully, things are changing.
The Feres Doctrine
70 years ago a law known as the Feres Doctrine was put into motion, by the Supreme Court.
This law has barred active service men and women from filing a case against the government for damages incurred against them. Unfortunately, the law was misinterpreted and also took away active duty service member’s right to sue for medical malpractice. Who knows the number of service men and women who were either harmed or lost their life at the hands of a military physician. No one was held responsible, leaving victims without a voice for far too many years.
Thankfully a lot has changed in the last few months. Largely in part to a terminally ill soldier who wouldn’t give up his fight to see this law repealed. In the next few sections we’ll talk about this brave man and what this means for members of the military.
A Story of Tragic Neglect
This is the story of Green Beret Richard Stayskal, who fought hard on the battlefield and now fights hard for his life and to see change.
In 2017, Stayskal began having breathing troubles. “While I was sleeping I felt like I was drowning,” says Stayskal. Alarmed by his condition he checked himself into Womack Army Hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A CT Scan was ordered but doctors brushed off his concerns. A few months later, after becoming unconscious, Stayskal’s wife rushed him back to the same hospital.
Doctors re-evaluated Stayskal’s condition and the CT Scan that was done a few months prior. But get this, medical records from the second visit reportedly indicate the staff noticed a possible mass and were going to recommend a biopsy, but never communicated any of this to Stayskal or his wife. They told Stayskal he had a minor case of pneumonia and was free to leave.
It wasn’t until his visit with a civilian pulmonologist that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. According to Army Times, the mass which appeared on his CT scan should have been noticed, even by a first year resident. It was that obvious. Had the diagnosis come at the initial visit, which was 6 months earlier, Stayskal’s prognosis could have been much different.
As of November 2018, Sgt. Richard Stayskal was given a life expectancy of at least 1 year. Not nearly enough time for a man still in his 30’s with a wife and two young daughters.
One Last Fight
In a perfect world, this Green Beret wouldn’t spend any of his final days in the halls of government buildings fighting for new legislature. He’d instead be with his family, his friends, the people who he loves. But his sacrifice has been met with success….
In 2019, the House of Representatives repealed the law with a provision inserted in the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. Paving the way for service members across America to fight for justice.
Under the new NDAA provision, malpractice and neglect won’t be left in the dark. Errors will soon come to light and practitioners will be held responsible for maltreatment.
If You’re A Victim of Military Malpractice
In general doctors are good. Most are in the profession because they want to help people. But like everyone else, they should be held accountable when they make a mistake.
If you or your loved one have been harmed at the hands of a military physician or staff member please reach out to us. Injuries related to medical, dental, or other healthcare related injuries may be eligible to seek compensation. To read our FAQs about this developing case click here.