While serving our country for 17 years, a brave Green Beret trusted his health to military doctors. Even after being evaluated by army physicians, he did not know that lung cancer was running its course through his body. In fact, the man was initially misdiagnosed with “atypical pneumonia” and did not discover his cancerous lung tumor until it had grown and morphed into a serious problem.
Now, the U.S. veteran is dying from an incurable disease, and he has no civil recourse.
Repealing the Medical Malpractice Section of the Feres Doctrine
On November 25, 2019, the House and Senate agreed to eliminate the medical malpractice portion of the 1950s Feres doctrine. If finalized in the White House, this repeal will allow military personnel and U.S. veterans to sue for medical malpractice, even if they can’t sue for other service-related damages from the government.
The man we discussed above led this charge, knowing that an earlier diagnosis could have ensured his survival. He wants to leave behind resources for his wife and daughter and set an example for justice moving forward. The specialist who gave him his diagnosis, Michael Pritchett, stated,
“The fact that he went six months without a diagnosis allowed the cancer to grow and very likely advanced its stage.”
Pritchett also noted that the man’s tumor had nearly doubled in size from the time of his first misdiagnosis.
The dying Green Beret confirmed:
“They robbed me of six months. Six months of untreated time.”
Fighting for the Right to Sue
If a civilian patient suffered a missed diagnosis like our Green Beret’s, they would have the right to sue those who treated them. Members of the military simply want the same right. The repeal will not affect split-second medical decisions on the battlefield but would hold stateside doctors accountable for mistakes in medical care.
Unfortunately, our hero’s story is not unique. A young Navy Seaman recently died of untreated sepsis and another woman in the Navy bled to death after childbirth. Due to the Feres doctrine, the Supreme Court declined to hear the latter woman’s case, even after a federal appeals court said:
“If there were ever a case to carve out an exception to the Feres doctrine, this is it.”
With help from an attorney, today’s case of a misdiagnosed cancerous tumor might be the one to finally change the law, which has barred hundreds of claims since its inception. Congresswoman Jackie Speer (D-Calif.) has already introduced the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019, and President Trump has agreed to “look into it.”
All in all, if our service members are willing to give their lives for our country and its justice system, shouldn’t the justice system protect them, as well?
In Anticipation of Change
If you were a victim of medical malpractice while serving for the U.S. Armed Forces, you may be able to sue once the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 passes through the White House.