The Feres Doctrine is a legal principle that has long prevented injured military service members from suing the federal government. This meant that even if a veteran’s disability was caused by negligent military medical care, they could not bring a claim against the government. Until now.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, an elite Green Beret and Purple Heart recipient from North Carolina, made it his mission to break down that barrier after a major medical mistake resulted in the misdiagnosis of his lung cancer. In 2017, Stayskal initially was told that he had pneumonia. That was a grave error that cost Stayskal the opportunity to receive early treatment, which could have extended his life. Instead, Stayskal’s lung cancer is now terminal, at stage-4.
As a result, his goal was to ensure better accountability on the part of the federal government, as well as honor those who feel left behind or forgotten in the system.
“Until now, seeking legal recourse for medical malpractice against the military has been an uphill battle,” says personal injury attorney Tyson Mutrux of Mutrux Firm Injury Lawyers. “However, the persistence of Sgt. 1st Class Stayskal could have a significant impact on the lives of disabled service members.”
The change came by way of an amendment introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). After the bill passed the House of Representatives, it was taken up by the Senate, which voted it through 86 to 8.
Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma called it a common-sense change that needed to be made in military medical malpractice law. He said that even the United States Department of Defense (DOD) realized that it was time to make a change.
Previously, DOD malpractice immunity was implemented to protect battlefield medics’ split-second decisions to treat critical injuries. Eventually, a court decision expanded the Feres Doctrine across the DOD to include VA and military base medical facilities. Consequently, wounded soldiers could not pursue military medical malpractice or negligence cases against the government.
The NDAA, which was signed into law by President Trump near the end of 2019, allocates $400 million to the DOD for purposes of administering an internal review of military medical malpractice claims. Legal remedies to injured service members will be paid from that same source of funding.
Stayskal credits the earnestness of his attorney, as well as the yearlong investigative series his local media produced on this issue, with bringing home this legislation.
Now, DOD veterans like Stayskal can fight for the compensation they deserve. To do so, veterans may want to find an experienced personal injury attorney. Knowledgeable attorneys can help discern how existing personal injury law may relate to upcoming military medical malpractice cases.
Although it is uncertain how these cases may be handled differently than civilian medical malpractice claims, this is a monumental win for veterans. As Stayskal battles a terminal illness, his legacy will live for years to come. Like civilians, wounded veterans can finally obtain better support for their injuries, pain and suffering.