Dying NC soldier's story prompts members of Congress to call for hearing, law change

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After telling his story to FOX 46, Sfc. Richard Stayskal is now telling it directly to members of Congress.

"My government is basically, to me, in my opinion, telling me, 'You're less than everybody else,'" Stayskal told Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). 

The Green Beret from North Carolina, who was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot in the lung in Iraq, is now putting up one last fight. 

The Special Forces soldier is dying, he and his attorney says, because doctors at Womack Army Medical Center failed to diagnose his cancer, which is now stage four terminal. After telling his story to FOX 46, and in between radiation treatments, he traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.

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

Staysal is pushing for a law that would allow active duty soldiers the right to sue the government for medical malpractice, something they are prevented from doing, because of a 1950 Supreme Court ruling called the "Feres Doctrine." That decision bars active duty military from suing the government for injuries incidental to military service.

At least three members of Conress - two Republicans and a Democrat - are now calling for a hearing and looking into legislation.

Last year, doctors at Womack failed to detect Stayskal's cancer six months before a civilian doctor did, Stayskal and his attorney say, pointing to medical records that support that claim. That delay in treatment allowed his tumor to double in size and metastasize, according to board certified radiologist Dr. Louis Leskosky, who reviewed Stayskal's CAT scans.

Leskosky has called this "a case of gross malpractice."  

Staysal says a colonel at Womack "literally told me at one point, 'Things happen and I don't know what to tell you,'" following his missed diagnosis.  

"'Things happen?'," asked Speier, in disbelief. 

"Yes, ma'am," said Stayskal.

Womack officials had no comment on that allegation or on Stayskal's case. 


If Stayskal was a civilian, he would have the right to sue for medical malpractice. Because he is active duty, he can't. 

"Should our service members be having the most incompetent physicians provide them healthcare?," asked Speier. "I think most Americans would say absolutely not."

FOX 46 was there when Stayskal, his wife, Megan, and attorney Natalie Khawam, with the Whistleblower Law Firm,  met with the Democratic congresswoman from California, who is a ranking member of the House Military Personnel Sub-Committee.

"I'm not asking for special treatment," said Stayskal.

"No, you're not," said Speier. 

"I'm asking for fair, equal rights," said Stayskal. 

"You're just asking for justice," said Speier, who could soon become committee chair. 

"I can guarantee you that if that is the case this will be one of the first hearings that we have," Speier said.

She later told FOX 46 a hearing could happen as early as next year. 

"I think he made a very compelling case for Congress to review the Feres Doctrine," Speier told FOX 46. "Because his case suggests that, as a service member, you aren't treated like a regular citizen in terms of egregious conduct in a hospital setting where it would normally be...malpractice, and his life's at stake."

"I look forward to have him come back and testify Congress," she added, saying that could happen "after the first of the year." 

Speier called the Feres Doctrine a "catch-all for all the lack of accountability that we've allowed to go on in the military."

The push to overhaul the Feres Doctrine has failed in the past. Stayskal's story, however, is rallying new bipartisan support. 

"I think we'll get it done," said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). "But I think it's gonna take some time."

The Oklahoma Republican also met with Stayskal and is now pushing for change. 

"It's something we are looking into. We're trying to figure out the best path forward," said Mullin.  "A hearing is going to take place. What I would like to see is a hearing take place and Rich be present. I don't know if that's possible."


Stayskal also met again with Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Concord) and representatives for Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

"My office had a productive meeting Sfc. Stayskal and we are in the process of reviewing quality and accountability standards within the Military Health System," Tillis said in a statement about the meeting. "My first priority is to ensure that all service members receive the highest quality of care, whether they are receiving that care from a uniformed or civilian provider, in a Military Treatment Facility or in the community."

Burr's office did not comment when asked how the meeting went. 

Hudson previously told FOX 46 he is looking into legislation that would created a limited pathway for active duty soldiers to sue the government. 

LINK: Congressman wants law change after military's medical mistake

"I'm continuing to study this to see how we can make a meaningful impact," Hudson told FOX 46 Monday. "My first priority is doing right by Rich and making sure every service member receives the best health care we can provide."

Since FOX 46 first aired Stayskal's story, his lawyers started an online petition to "amend the Feres Doctrine." It has more than 15,000 signatures. 

Khawam also started the website www.feresdoctrine.com and hopes to hear from other soldiers who are facing similar issues. 

"They protected our rights and the one thing we need to do is protect them in return," said Khawam. "This is an unfair, old draconian law that needs to be changed and fixed."

After a full day of meeting with lawmakers, Stayskal and his wife traveled to Tampa, Fla. for radiation treatment.

He says he has been given at least a year left to live.

Stayskal is now sacrificing time away from his two young daughters to once again fight for a cause bigger than himself.

"It's always worth the effort," he said. "There's nothing that's not worth the effort if you believe in it."

Womack Army Medical Center Response

Fort Bragg, where Stayskal was stationed, Womack Army Medical Center and the Department of Defense, all declined to comment on this case. Womack officials did provide this new statement to FOX 46:

"We are committed to the delivery of safe, quality, accessible and patient-centered care for those in our charge and their families. Though we are unable to discuss specifics regarding any particular case due to privacy protections, we are required to identify, analyze and appropriately report unanticipated outcomes. This process reduces risk to patients and improves the quality of care." - Col. John Melton, commander of Womack Army Medical Center