The U.S. Department of Defense will soon begin paying medical malpractice claims under a law inspired by the travails of a Pinehurst Green Beret.
Named after Sgt. 1st Class Richard “Rich” Stayskal, the law allows service members to file administrative claims for medical malpractice in all branches of the armed forces. Military personnel were previously barred from taking such action by the Feres Doctrine, an obscure rule stemming from a 1950 Supreme Court decision.
Stayskal began meeting with lawmakers after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2018. Doctors at Womack Army Medical Center had failed to catch the disease when he went in for a routine screening in January 2017.
The delayed diagnosis greatly diminished Stayskal’s odds of survival, but the Feres Doctrine left him with little legal recourse. After learning of the soldier’s plight, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson began advocating for a law that would allow service members to pursue malpractice claims.
Hudson, a Republican whose district includes parts of Moore County, co-sponsored the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California. The Rich Stayskal Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2019.
Earlier this month, the Department of Defense issued a final rule on the law to “provide uniform standards and procedures for considering and processing” medical malpractice claims brought by service members. The rule took effect after it was published in the Federal Registrar on June 19.
“It’s been a long time coming but it’s here,” Stayskal said of the rule during a news conference with his attorney. “It’s a great day for the military and for the service members to finally be able to be made whole through unfortunate situations.”
The Department of Defense has been authorized to spend $400 million over the next decade on substantiated malpractice claims filed after 2017. While the rule will remain open for public comment until Aug. 16, Hudson said claimants could begin seeing payments as early as next month.
“I am thrilled to see this rule issued after more than three years of work on behalf of soldiers like Rich Stayskal,” Hudson said in a statement to The Pilot. “There is no way to fix the wrong that happened. But I hope it’s a little bit of a lifting of a burden for these families and individuals who are facing a terminal diagnosis and facing questions of ‘how will my wife and children survive once I’m gone?’ This hopefully brings some peace of mind to those tragic stories.”
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at (910) 693-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org