Senate bill, named for N.C. Green Beret, would allow malpractice lawsuits

A nearly year-long series of FOX 46 investigations continues to get results on Capitol Hill. 

Sfc. Richard Stayskal, an Army Green Beret from Fort Bragg and Purple Heart recipient, is fighting for the right to sue the government for medical malpractice. It’s a right civilians and even convicted prisoners have. 

Under a 1950 Supreme Court ruling called the Feres Doctrine, active duty soldiers are prevented from suing the government even when medical care is botched so badly it leads to their death.

On Tuesday, the Senate joined the House in introducing a bipartisan bill – the Sfc. Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 – that would give soldiers the right to sue for improper medical care, not on the battlefield, that leads to injury or death.

As FOX 46 first reported, doctors at Womack Army Medical Center misdiagnosed Stayskal’s lung cancer as pneumonia. That delay in treatment, Stayskal and his attorney say, gave his tumor time to spread and is now stage four terminal. 

Stayskal’s case gained national attention and put a spotlight on the Feres Doctrine after FOX 46’s investigation last year.

Speaking on the floor of the House, in front of a large photo of Stayskal, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said there is a “critical need” for Congress to pass the bill and fix “an outdated judicial ruling.”

“Service members’ spouses and families, civilian federal employees, and even convicted prisoners have the right to sue for negligence,” said Speier. “Only Rich, and our brave military service members, are denied this right by the Feres Doctrine.”

“At a time when Rich should be able to spend his remaining days with the ones he loves he has answered the call to fight,” Speier added. “Rich, as I promised you when you testified before the committee, we will never forget your commitment, your honor and sacrifice. And I will keep fighting to fix Feres as long as it takes.”

On Monday, Stayskal and his attorney Natalie Khawam met with White House officials. In July, he was invited to share his story and talk about his bill with Pres. Donald Trump. He has met with Vice Pres. Mike Pence twice this year, along with dozens of lawmakers, fighting for his fellow soldiers.

“It’s good to see that there’s still continued support,” said Stayskal as he had to drive back from DC to North Carolina. “More backing the better.”

Stayskal says his health has slowly “taken a turn for the worse.” Despite his health, he is still fighting for a law change.

“I don’t know how long it’ll be before someone jumps up and do it again. I don’t believe somebody else should have to,” said Stayskal, when asked why he keeps fighting. “We’re here. We’re already this far. I’d like to just get it done with and [it] just not be an issue anymore and finally be fixed after 70 years. It’s important to just keep pushing through while I can. I started something I’ve got to see it through.”

Stayskal’s attorney expects a vote on the bill in October.