A new bill in Congress could finally allow troops to sue the military in cases of medical malpractice

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army Capt. (Dr.) Gregory Giles, ophthalmology resident, preps a patient for cataract surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Jan. 29, 2019. Cataracts, which cause clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye, are the leading cause of treatable blindness. (U.S. Army photo by Jason W. Edwards)

Lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would allow service members and their families to sue the government, in certain cases, when a member of the military is a victim of military medical malpractice. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) the chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, and includes co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.


The news comes the same day that members of the subcommittee heard from military medical malpractice victims, and bears the name of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, who testified at the hearing. A Marine infantryman and Purple Heart recipient who went on to join the Army and become a Green Beret, Stayskal has terminal lung cancer, and has become a symbol for advocates who want to see a change to the Feres Doctrine — a 1950 Supreme Court precedent that bars lawsuits against the military "for injuries to members of the armed forces arising from activities incident to military service."

As Task & Purpose previously reported, Stayskal's cancer was missed during a routine CT-scan in January 2017 at Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center in North Carolina. The disease wasn't properly diagnosed until June of that year, and that was only after his health had deteriorated dramatically and he was finally given leave to see a civilian specialist off-base.

Richard and Megan Stayskal in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2019.Task & Purpose/James Clark

"This does affect me obviously, but my children are definitely the true victims along with my wife," Stayskal, who has two daughters, said during Tuesday's hearing. "The hardest thing I have to do is explain to my children when they ask me 'this doesn't make sense, how is this happening?' and I have no good answer to give them and that's why I'm coming up here to help convince these folks in Congress to change this."

Because of the Feres Doctrine, Stayskal and his family are barred from suing the government for damages. If the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 were to pass, that could change, not only for the Staykals, but other service members and their families.

The bill would create an exemption to the Federal Tort Claims Act — a law which allows citizens to sue the government for negligence or wrongdoing — and allow them to file medical malpractice lawsuits. However, it would only cover cases that are still pending on, or occur after the bill's passage, as a way to limit costs, according to a press release provided by Speier's office.

Because Stayskal and his attorney's have already filed their malpractice lawsuit in federal court, their case would be covered if the bill passed, said Natalie Khawam, one of the attorneys representing Stayskal.

"Today, the American people saw Congress take action," Khawam told Task & Purpose. "We are one step closer to protecting our troops and their families. I'm humbled to represent Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, and honored to fight for of all the men and women that serve our country."

Additionally, the bill would have no impact on those instances of medical malpractice that occur during combat operations, aboard ships, or at battalion aid stations.

Under the proposed bill, service members would be able to sue for malpractice that occurs at major military clinics and hospitals, where both civilians and military personnel are already treated.

"The Feres Doctrine is a travesty," Speier said in a statement. "It denies service members who put their lives on the line for this country the same access to the justice system enjoyed by service members' spouses, other federal employees, and even prisoners. Creating an exemption for medical malpractice is long overdue."

One of the major critiques of the Feres Doctrine is that it creates a double standard: One set of rules for civilians, and another for those in uniform. For example: If a service member and a military dependent saw the same military doctor on base, for the same ailment, and the same mistakes were made in both cases, the civilian patient would be able to sue for medical malpractice; the service member would not, as Task & Purpose previously reported.

"Representing the men and women stationed at Fort Bragg and their families is one of the greatest honors of my life," Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said in a statement. "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."

The Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 can be read in full, here:

(Task & Purpose photo illustration by Paul Szoldra)

Jordan Way was living a waking nightmare.

The 23-year-old sailor laid in bed trembling. At times, his body would shake violently as he sobbed. He had recently undergone a routine shoulder surgery on Dec. 12, 2017, and was hoping to recover.

Instead, Jordan couldn't do much of anything other than think about the pain. Simple tasks like showering, dressing himself, or going to the bathroom alone were out of the question, and the excruciating sensation in his shoulder made lying down to sleep feel like torture.

"Imagine being asleep," he called to tell his mother Suzi at one point, "but you can still feel the pain."

To help, military doctors gave Jordan oxycodone, a powerful semi-synthetic opiate they prescribed to dull the sensation in his shoulder. Navy medical records show that he went on to take more than 80 doses of the drug in the days following the surgery, dutifully following doctor's orders to the letter.

Instinctively, Jordan, a Navy corpsman who by day worked at the Twentynine Palms naval hospital where he was now a patient, knew something was wrong. The drugs seemed to have little effect. His parents advised him to seek outside medical advice, but base doctors insisted the drugs just needed more time to work.

"They've got my back," Jordan had told his parents before the surgery, which happened on a Tuesday. By Saturday, he was dead.

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(Associated Press/Gregory Bull)

The Navy has paused proceedings that could strip Eddie Gallagher and three other SEALs of their tridents while the service awaits a written order to formally stand down, a senior Navy official told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

Rear Adm. Collin Green, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, was expected to decide on the matter after the SEALs appeared before a review board next month. But Trump tweeted on Thursday that Gallagher was in no danger of losing his trident, a sacred symbol of being part of the SEAL community.

"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," the president tweeted. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"

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U.S. President Donald Trump salutes a transfer case holding the remains of Chief Warrant Officer David Knadle, who was killed November 20 in a helicopter crash while supporting ground troops in Afghanistan, during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware, U.S. November 21, 2019. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday to receive the remains of two American soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week.

Trump, who met with families of the soldiers, was accompanied at the base by first lady Melania Trump, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and national security adviser Robert O'Brien.

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T-38 Talon training aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Two airmen from Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, were killed on Thursday when two T-38 Talon training aircraft crashed during training mission, according to a message posted on the base's Facebook age.

The two airmen's names are being withheld pending next of kin notification.

A total of four airmen were onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident, base officials had previously announced.

The medical conditions for the other two people involved in the crash was not immediately known.

An investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the crash.

Emergency responders from Vance Air Force Base are at the crash scene to treat casualties and help with recovery efforts.

Read the entire message below:

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Two Vance Air Force Base Airmen were killed in an aircraft mishap at approximately 9:10 a.m. today.

At the time of the accident, the aircraft were performing a training mission.

Vance emergency response personnel are on scene to treat casualties and assist in recovery efforts.

Names of the deceased will be withheld pending next of kin notification.

A safety investigation team will investigate the incident.

Additional details will be provided as information becomes available. #VanceUpdates.

This is a breaking news story. It will be updated as more information is released.

Photos: 1st Cavalry Division

The Army has identified the two soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Wednesday as 33-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 2 David C. Knadle, and 25-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kirk T. Fuchigami Jr.

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