A new bill has been proposed which would give soldiers the right to sue for medical malpractice. The bill is named after a Fort Brag Purple Heart Green Beret who is suffering from cancer. The bill is not yet law, but it was recently added to the National Defense Authorization Act and has passed the House.
If the bill is passed, then it would give soldiers the right to sue over medical malpractice relating to care at home. The bill does not apply to any war zone injuries or medical care received in a war zone.
At the moment, ordinary citizens and federal prisoners have the right to sue for medical malpractice, but the troops cannot do so, because of the Feres Doctrine, which was created by the Supreme Court in 1950. The new bill, named after Sfc. Richard Stayskal was introduced in April by Rep. Jackie Speier. She called the bill one of the most important pieces of legislation that she has had the opportunity to participate in.
Stayskal is a veteran of Iraq, and he survived a bullet while he was there, but he is unlikely to survive the lung cancer that he was treated for at Fort Bragg. According to his medical records, he was initially misdiagnosed as having pneumonia. Doctors had noticed a possible mass on his lung and had recommended a biopsy, but neither Stayskal nor his wife was informed of that. His cancer was not diagnosed until he saw a civilian doctor, six months later. The cancer is now stage four and is likely terminal.
Stayskal approached Congress saying that he wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen to anyone else. Speier says that she does not want to see the same thing happen to others either, and that is why she is proposing this bill. Rep. Richard Hudson is co-sponsoring the bill but has voted against the Defense Authorisation Act because of other amendments included in it.
The Department of Defense is opposed to altering the Feres Doctrine because it would reduce discipline and disrupt order in the military if troops had the option of suing the U.S. government under civil litigation. The bill has made it past the House, however, which means that it is one step closer to becoming law. If the act is not approved in its current state, then the sponsors plan to push for amendments to allow the Feres bill through.