Bipartisan lawmakers call military medical malpractice compromise a 'miracle'

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal praised a bipartisan compromise that he sacrificed the last year fighting for.

“It’s finally starting to sink in,” he said. “So I’m feeling pretty good. A lot more smiles coming my way.”

In between cancer treatments, the Purple Heart Green Beret from Pinehurst, N.C., is back on Capitol Hill advocating for justice for soldiers victimized by negligent medical care.

“I can’t underscore enough how remarkable this achievement is,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told Stayskal during a meeting in her office, which FOX 46 attended.

Thirteen months ago, FOX 46 was with Stayskal in this same room when he first met Speier, days after our first investigation into his botched care. In 2017, military doctors at Womack Army Medical Center not only misdiagnosed his lung cancer as pneumonia but did not tell him a second review recommended a biopsy, medical records show.  

Stayskal’s lung cancer is now stage 4 terminal.

“It seems like forever ago,” said Stayskal, referring to when they first met, and how much has occurred since he first shared his story.

In April, Speier introduced a bill named after him – the “Sfc. Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act” – that would have given troops the ability to sue the government for medical malpractice, which is prevented because of a 1950 Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres Doctrine. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) co-sponsored the bill, which stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Sen. Lindsey Graham.

In October, Graham told FOX 46 he would meet with Stayskal, after initially refusing, but warned: “I’m not gonna change my mind.”

Lawmakers found a workaround. A bipartisan compromise, which passed the House Wednesday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, would do the following:

  • $400 million will be allocated to the Dept. of Defense over the next decade.
  • The money will be used to pay out military medical malpractice claims made after Jan. 2017.   
  • The DoD will investigate and payout claims internally.
  • The legislation does not undo the Feres Doctrine. Soldiers will still not be allowed to file federal lawsuits against the government.

“It’s something that’s never been [allowed to happen before],” Stayskal said. “It’s a start.”

If signed into law, the measure would give troops, for the first time, the ability to be compensated for negligent medical care at our nation’s military hospitals, unrelated to combat or training.

“Sometimes something good comes out of something terrible,” said Stayskal. “And this is one of those things.”

Speier says Stayskal’s story had a “profound” impact on her personally and credits his story as the reason a “miracle” agreement was reached.

“It’s a miracle. It’s a Christmas miracle,” she said in her office. “That’s a huge win. I can’t even begin to tell you how remarkable that is.”

Despite the win, Speier says she has “serious concerns” about allowing the Dept. of Defense to write the rules, investigating its own malpractice cases and paying out claims.

“We’re going to have to watch the DoD. They’re going to have to develop regulations,” she said, noting there will be oversight. “I want to believe that the Department of Defense will do the right thing.”

A few floors down, FOX 46 followed Stayskal along with his wife and attorney as they met with Hudson.

“You touched my heart when I first met you and I knew this was a fight worth fighting for,” Hudson told Stayskal. “This was a sweet-tasting victory.”

The Senate is expected to pass the NDAA this week. It would then go to President Donald Trump to sign into law, which could happen before Christmas. Hudson and Stayskal thanked each other and FOX 46 for getting results.

“This guy was relentless,” Hudson said in the middle of their meeting, pointing to FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant. “Without the media driving this it never would have succeeded.”

“Nobody was as dogged as Matt Grant, who was there every step of the way,” he added.

Stayskal, his attorney and his wife have become regulars on Capitol Hill. Speier described his efforts as “heroic advocacy.” Both Speier and Hudson say his heartbreaking story, and the injustice it highlights, compelled lawmakers to do something quickly.

“This is landmark legislation,” said Hudson. “Typically, in Washington, it takes a decade to get something like this done. Because Republicans and Democrats were so compelled by Rich’s story and were willing to come together to work on this, we’ve got a miracle story here.”