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Service members earn right to file medical malpractice claims

A Green Beret who survived being shot by an Iraqi sniper in 2004 was the inspiration behind a provision that allows military members, for the first time ever, to file claims against the U.S. military over medical malpractice in military clinics and hospitals.

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, 38, is living with stage 4 lung cancer after military doctors failed to recognize a tumor that was evident on a 2017 CT scan during a required physical exam while he was trying to qualify for a diving course.

Delay results in a terminal prognosis

Military doctors at Fort Bragg missed the tumor on the scan in January 2017. Less than six months later, Stayskal was coughing up blood and received permission to be examined by a civilian doctor off base. The pulmonologist accurately diagnosed the tumor on his lung.

The civilian doctor declared Stayskal had stage 3 lung cancer and estimated the missed diagnosis had enabled the tumor to nearly double in size. His cancer has now been classified as stage 4 or terminal.

70-year-old Feres Doctrine protected military doctors

Despite the apparent error by military doctors, Stayskal was not allowed to take any legal action against them. That’s because a 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as the Feres Doctrine, prevented active-duty service members from suing the government for medical malpractice.

The doctrine survived numerous legal challenges over the decades that followed, preventing military families from seeking justice through the courts for medical mistakes. However, Stayskal was undaunted and began a year-long legal and lobbying effort in 2018 to change the law.

Stayskals effort helps hold military medical personnel accountable

Despite the advanced stage of the illness, Stayskal made the 330-mile trip from Fort Bragg to Washington, D.C. once a month to meet with members of the House Armed Services Committee’s Military and Personnel Subcommittee.

Legislators drafted what was initially known as the Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019. The provision was later included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law last December, and finally allows service members to file medical malpractice claims against the federal government.

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