Bill giving soldiers right to sue for medical malpractice passes House

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A bill named after a Fort Bragg Purple Heart Green Beret with cancer is one step closer to becoming law.

The bill, which was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, passed the House on Friday. It would give soldiers the right to sue for medical malpractice when their care at home goes wrong. It would not apply to injuries or medical care in a war zone.

The ability to sue for medical malfeasance is a right even federal prisoners have but something our troops can't do because of a 1950 Supreme Court decision called the Feres Doctrine.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is pushing to change that.

"This is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that I've had the chance to participate in since I've been in Congress," said Speier in a satellite interview from Capitol Hill.

Speier introduced the bill, named after Sfc. Richard Stayskal, in April. She credits his story of botched medical care, which FOX 46 first reported last November.

FOX 46 was there when Stayskal met with Speier last November and again when he testified before Congress in April.

"His powerful testimony made it very crystal clear to me that this is the kind of injustice that had to be fixed," said Speier. "So, he gets 100 percent of the credit."

Stayskal survived an enemy's bullet in Iraq. He likely won't survive the medical care he received at Fort Bragg.

FOX 46 was first to uncover the botched care Stayskal received at Womack Army Medical Center. Records show doctors misdiagnosed his lung care as pneumonia. Doctors later noted a possible mass and recommended a biopsy but Stayskal, and his wife Megan, say they were never told any of that.

His cancer was eventually diagnosed by a civilian doctor six months later. The cancer has spread and is now stage four terminal.

"He came to Congress to say, 'I don't want this to happen to anyone else,'" said Speier. "We don't want it to happen to anyone else either."

At a time when nothing in Congress seems to be bipartisan, Speier's bill has gained support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) is a co-sponsor.

"On both sides of the aisle we want to make sure our service members have the best health care," said Speier. "And when they don​​​​​​'t receive the best health care and there's something as grievous as loss of life, or terminal illness, there should be a way of compensating them. It's only right."

The Department of Defense opposes making any changes to the Feres Doctrine, arguing it would disrupt military order and erode discipline if troops were allowed to sue the U.S. government.

"Certainly, your coverage on Richard had an effect on many of the members of Congress in his region that became interested in the legislation," said Speier. "And I'm delighted that it's bipartisan in nature."

Hudson voted against the Defense Authorization Act, which included his Feres Doctrine bill, citing opposition to other amendments. 

He says he will keep fighting to fix the Feres Doctrine and make it "right" for service members. 

"As Fort Bragg's Congressman, my top priority is taking care of our military community," Hudson said in a statement. "I will continue to work in a bipartisan way to finally making this right for our service members and their families."

Hudson recently introduced Stayskal to Vice President Mike Pence, who expressed his support for the bill, according to Stayskal. 

"Your amazing journalism is the reason we have a Bill passed by the House!!!," Stayskal's attorney, Natalie Khawam, said in a text message, crediting FOX 46. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!"

Khawam released the following statement, on behalf of her Whistleblower Law Firm and Stayskal:

"We want to thank you Matt Grant and FOX 46 for interviewing SFC Richard Stayskal with Congressman Hudson and Vice President Pence last month in NC. We want to thank Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congressman Hudson and Vice President Pence for supporting the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019. This Bill which just passed the House in the NDAA, will allow our active duty soldiers like Richard that have been victims of non combat medical malpractice to have recourse and be made whole. We look forward to working with Congresswoman Speier, Congressman Hudson and Vice President Pence to make sure our Bill that protects our Military is included and passed in the upcoming Senate-House NDAA conference."