NC Green Beret says military misdiagnosed his cancer; new bill would allow him to sue

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will introduce a bill Tuesday named in honor of a North Carolina Green Beret who is fighting for the right to sue the government after the military's doctors misdiagnosed his lung cancer as pneumonia. 

"He got shot in the chest and he survived that," said Sfc. Richard Stayskal's attorney, Natalie Khawam. "ISIS couldn't kill him but our own healthcare system is." 

The military's doctors dismissed Stayskal's labored breathing and feelings of "drowning," the Purple Heart recipient first told FOX 46 last year. His cancer was finally detected by a civilian doctor six months later. The gap in treatment allowed the cancer to spread and become terminal.

The misdiagnosis, which led to a stage four cancer diagnosis, did not occur on the battlefield in the theater of war but rather here at home, on base at Fort Bragg. 

"I feel great because I don't want to believe that it's there," Stayskal told FOX 46 last year. "If it's false hope, it's still hope. There's days I really try not to believe that I have it. Some days I'm good at convincing myself. [That's] pretty much how I go about my days," he added after a long pause, his voice cracking.

If Stayskal was a retired veteran seeking treatment at the VA, or a civilian, he could sue for medical malpractice. However, because he was active duty, under a 1950 Supreme Court decision known as the Feres Doctrine, he can't. The nearly 70-year-old ruling prevents active duty soldiers from suing the government for injuries "incident to military service." 

"I'm not asking for special treatment," Stayskal told Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) last year. "I'm just asking for fair, equal rights," Stayskal told the Congresswoman. 

Speier is now the chair of the Military Personnel Subcomittee and is pushing for a change in law.

"You're just asking for justice," echoed Speier. FOX 46 was there when she told Stayskal a hearing on the Feres Doctrine would be "one of the first" things her committee does.

Now, six months after first telling his story to FOX 46, Stayskal will tell it to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, along with others who feel they too have been wronged. 

Stayskal's story has moved lawmakers from both parties to take another look at the Feres Doctrine, something that has been tried before but previously failed. 

Lawmakers Tuesday will introduce a bill that would give soldiers the right to sue the government for medical malpractice. The bill will be titled the "Sfc. Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019" in honor of the soldier who is still fighting for a cause greater than himself. 

An online change.org petition has nearly 100,000 signatures in support of overhauling the Feres Doctrine. 

"This has nothing to do with politics," said Khawam. "It has everything to do with our soldiers, America, our freedom and protecting our troops."

FOX 46 will be at Tuesday's hearing and have live coverage from Washington, D.C. 

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