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Rep. Speier Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Restore Military Servicemembers’ Rights to Sue for Medical Malpractice

April 30, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), along with her colleagues Richard Hudson (R-NC), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Charlie Crist (D-FL), and Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced H.R. 2422, the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019, which would allow military servicemembers to sue the Department of Defense for instances of medical malpractice unrelated to their military duties. Currently, the Feres Doctrine, which originated in a 1950 Supreme Court case, prevents servicemembers from having their day in court when malpractice by military health care providers unconnected to combat results in severe injury or even death.

For nearly 70 years, servicemembers have not been able to sue military medical providers after being misdiagnosed, mistreated, or subjected to botched surgeries, even though this malpractice occurred in health care settings in which all other Americans have that right. By creating an exemption to the Federal Tort Claims Act to allow servicemembers to sue the military for medical malpractice, the Stayskal Act would give servicemembers the same right as the fellow citizens they serve to protect. SFC Stayskal developed terminal lung cancer after being misdiagnosed in a military health facility.

“The Feres Doctrine is a travesty,” said Rep. Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “It denies servicemembers who put their lives on the line for this country the same access to the justice system enjoyed by servicemembers’ spouses, other federal employees, and even prisoners. Creating an exemption for medical malpractice is long overdue. I’m thrilled to have a bipartisan group of colleagues join me in addressing this injustice for our servicemembers and their families, who bear the burden of service as well.”

“Representing the men and women stationed at Fort Bragg and their families is one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Rep. Hudson. “My priority is doing right by my constituent Rich and making sure our service members and their families receive the support and top-notch health care they were promised. I admire Rich and the Stayskal family’s courage to advocate for these changes, and I am proud to introduce this legislation today with a bipartisan group of colleagues.”

"It’s hard to believe that it is the law in America that doctors and hospitals can commit medical malpractice on men and women in uniform and our Servicemembers cannot sue for damages,” said Rep. Raskin. This rip in the legal fabric is extraordinary and plainly indefensible. So I’m proud to join with Congresswoman Speier in introducing this long overdue legislation. It is time to overturn the Feres Doctrine and make sure civil justice works for the people who are risking their lives to defend America.” 

“America’s servicemembers and their families make tremendous sacrifices to protect our freedoms, yet we deny them the ability to seek justice for injury or death caused by negligence at military medical facilities,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to correct this wrong. Our troops deserve better.”

“One court case decided almost 70 years ago continues to devastate servicemembers and their families,” said Rep. Lieu. “Normally, the United States allows lawsuits by its employees for personal injury or death caused by negligence. But in the case of our military members, the courts have spoken – the United States is not liable for injuries to active duty servicemembers, even for non-combat injuries. In my mind, a sailor whose botched surgery left her infertile should be able to pursue justice. So should the wife of a Green Beret whose husband is dying because doctors chronically downplayed symptoms that led to his Stage IV lung cancer. The bottom line is this: we have asked our men and women in uniform to sacrifice more than most can imagine. The last thing we should do is deny them their day in court. I am proud to join Rep. Speier on a technical fix to the law to ensure that all who have served can seek justice.”

“SFC Richard Stayskal has dedicated the past 17 years of his life to protecting the citizens of the United States and the Military Health System failed him,” said Rep. Mullin. “We should do better and we must do better. This legislation provides checks and balances to the Military Health System to ensure physicians are providing the highest levels of care to our men in women in uniform and gives patients recourse against negligent care. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sensible reforms to the Feres Doctrine so that we can keep our commitment to those who have risked their lives to defend our nation.”

“Current law prevents servicemembers and their families from seeking justice when hurt or killed due to medical malpractice,” said Rep. Crist. “This legislation reverses misguided policy for non-combat-related malpractice, like child birth and cancer misdiagnosis. Our military and their families deserve better — eliminating the Feres Doctrine is simply the right thing to do.

“The brave men and women of our Armed Forces are the only people denied the benefits of the United States’ waiver of sovereign immunity when they are medically malpracticed upon at military hospitals,” said Rep. Steube. “This bill will restore those rights and I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor. Our servicemembers sacrifice so much for our country and they deserve at least this much.”

Numerous military, veteran, and family service organizations support a medical malpractice exemption to Feres:

“MOAA thanks Rep. Speier and her colleagues for introducing the ‘Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019’ which allows uniformed service personnel who have suffered a case of medical malpractice, not in the course of operational duties, the ability to pursue compensation through legal means,” said Lt Gen Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret); President and CEO, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “This is a step in the right direction and provides for an exemption of the Feres Act for our military members.” 

“Serving your country shouldn’t mean signing away the right every other American has to seek recourse for negligent or wrongful medical treatment - we should overturn parts of the Feres doctrine that limit this right,” said Kathy Roth Douquet, CEO and Board President of Blue Star Families.

“We are very pleased to see Chairwoman Speier and a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders introduce this critical bill in support of those aggrieved by an outdated aspect of the Feres doctrine,” said Melissa Bryant, Chief Policy Officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “Too many of our veterans and families like the Daniel and Stayskal families have been denied the ability to seek civil tort remedy for medical malpractice due to a precedent set back in 1950. We sacrifice enough in our service, to include knowing the potential ultimate sacrifice we face in war. But no one should die as a result of medical malpractice when receiving routine care outside of a combat zone. We support this bill in the hopes that veterans and their survivors can have some semblance of peace and closure after devastating loss.”

“Our Association supports the Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 that scales back the Feres Doctrine to allow service members to file medical malpractice claims for improper care received in military hospitals and clinics,” said Joyce Raezer, Executive Director of National Military Family Association. “Our service members are required to seek medical care within the military health system. It is only right that they be allowed to pursue damages when they have been on the receiving end of military medical care that results in harm. This change will bring an important measure of accountability to the military medical system.”

"The Service Women's Action Network applauds Representative Speier for her leadership in removing prohibitions against service members seeking restitution in cases of obvious medical malpractice not incident to combat,” said Ellen Haring, Interim CEO of the Service Women’s Action Network. “A service woman or man who is harmed by foreseeable medical mistakes should have the same access to restitution as any civilian. A military member should not be penalized because she selflessly raised her hand to protect and defend this country."

“I applaud Congresswoman Speier’s effort to roll back the Feres doctrine in the medical malpractice context,” said Dwight Stirling, CEO of the Center for Law and Military Policy. “Doing so will significantly strengthen the quality of military medical care while enabling injured service members to be justly compensated. The bar on civil liability has no applicability when service members are hurt away from the battlefield in civilian-like situations. Congresswoman Speier’s bill extends to our national protectors the same legal protections every other American has, helping to end their status as second-class citizens.”

“For over fifty years, the Feres doctrine has stood as a cruel barrier to appropriate compensation for the men and women serving in the armed forces seeking redress for medical malpractice,” said Col. Don Christensen (ret.), President of Protect Our Defenders (POD). “There is simply no justification to closing the doors to Federal courts for our service members injured by negligence. Protect Our Defenders stands proudly with Representative Jackie Speier in her efforts to end the Feres roadblock for our military members and their families devastated by military medical malpractice.”

“Feres has allowed the military medical system to remain above legal accountability for far too long,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice. “Military health care providers have been immunized by Feres. This has led to our current military health care system’s sky-high rates of preventable medical errors and no accountability when those errors kill or injure servicemembers. Our servicemembers deserve better.”

Additional supporting organizations include:

  • The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA)
  • Sea Service Family Foundation

A copy of the bill text can be found here and a one pager describing the bill can be found here.

 

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