Can Servicemembers Sue a Military Doctor for Medical Malpractice? 


Today, members of the military are unable to sue for medical malpractice due to the Feres doctrine, resulting from a 1950s Supreme Court decision which blocks servicemembers from seeking damages for war-related injuries or on-duty accidents.

Proposals to Overturn the Feres Doctrine

On September 10, 2019, Senators John Kennedy and Mazie Hirono introduced legislation aimed at overturning parts of the Feres doctrine. Kennedy argued that the Feres doctrine should be changed because it prevents members of the military from suing their doctors for medical malpractice or negligence. This doctrine harms servicemembers because it denies them the opportunity to obtain compensation from negligent doctors who worsened their health.

Another advocate, Congresswoman Speier, stated that changing the doctrine will also create an incentive to improve healthcare in the military. She also expressed admiration for Richard Stayskal, a former Green Beret and Iraq war veteran who is suffering from stage four lung cancer. His cancer has progressed to stage four because his military doctors misdiagnosed his symptoms as pneumonia, which delayed lifesaving treatments.

Stayskal, 38 years old, has been lobbying for legislation and trying to meet with Senator Lindsey Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham is strongly against the legislation and believes these changes will make some injuries and deaths worth more.

What Lies Ahead

The leaders of the Armed Service committees of the House and the Senate met on September 19 to formally negotiate the National Defense Authorization Act. With Graham’s opposition to changing the Feres doctrine, it is unlikely that members of the military will be able to sue for medical malpractice anytime soon.

Stayskal cannot continue to lobby, as he must undergo more clinical treatments for his cancer. He is advocating for himself as well as other members of the military who are suffering from the consequences of medical malpractice and negligence.

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