Congressman wants law change after military's medical mistake

A North Carolina Congressman is looking into drafting legislation following a FOX 46 investigation.

"It violates a sense of right and wrong," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord), in response to what happened to Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal.

The Green Beret, who was awarded a Purple Heart, was shot in his lung in Iraq in 2004. Now, he's fighting for his life battling stage four terminal cancer.

"Sometimes you just stare at the things you never stared at before," said Stayskal. "Wondering how many more times you'll get to see them."

The 37-year-old Special Forces soldier is cherishing the time he has left with his two young daughters. Last year, doctors at Womack Army Medical Center failed to diagnose his cancer when it took a CT scan in January 2017. A civilian doctor detected it six months later. That delay in treatment allowed the aggressive tumor time to grow and spread, according to Stayskal's attorney and board certified radiologist Dr. Louis Leskosky. 

"If I were testifying in court I would call this a gross case of malpractice," said Dr. Louis Leskosky, who reviewed Stayskal's case.

Stayskal can't sue the doctors who missed his cancer because of a 1950 Supreme Court decision called the Feres Doctrine, which prevents active duty military from suing the government for medical malpractice. It is a right he would have if he was a civilian.

"What a heartbreaking story," said Hudson. "He's a real American hero who put his life on the line for his country and to see what he's going through now is tough."

The Republican Congressman met with Stayskal and is now considering a law that would change the Feres Doctrine and allow soldiers the ability to sue the government under certain conditions.

LINK: North Carolina Green Beret fighting cancer, government, over medical mistake

"I'm taking a look at the Feres Doctrine and whether or not we think it's fairly applied," said Hudson. "My internal sense of fairness tells me there ought to be some limited pathway for folks like Rich who can pursue this."

"So you think something needs to change?," asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.

"I think so," said Hudson.

Attorney Natalie Khawam thinks so too. The Whistleblower Law Firm, is now representing Stayskal and, despite the Feres Doctrine, Khawam is pursuing a $10 million lawsuit against the federal government for medical malpractice. 

"What do you think would have happened if they had detected this [cancer] earlier?," asked Grant. 

"We don't have a man who's dying," said Khawam. 

FOX 46 wants to know if the doctors and radiologists who missed Stayskal's cancer are still employed, if his case was ever investigated and if any changes were made at Womack Army Medical Center to prevent this from happening again. 

What we got was the run-around.

The Department of Defense declined to comment on Stayskal's case. A spokeswoman said the Pentagon supports the Feres Doctrine. Fort Bragg referred us to Womack, which referred us to Army Claims Service.

"We're bound by the existing law and jurisprudence," said Lt. Col. David Anglin, with Army Claims, referring to the Feres Doctrine. "But, if it changes, we'll comply with whatever the law is." 

We were then referred to Army Medical Command, which told us they couldn't comment on pending litigation and referred us back to the Department of Defense. 

"We cannot discuss ongoing or pending litigation," said Army Medical senior public affairs officer Maura D. Fitch. 

Stayskal and his attorney plan to go to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks to meet with other lawmakers face to face. He hopes his story can spark change. 

"I try to set examples for my kids," said Stayskal, who says doctors told him he has at least a year to live. "You gotta do the right thing. You gotta fix the things that are broken. If you don't do it, who else is going to do it?"