A suit filed against the U.S. by former Coast Guard officer Walter Daniel after the death of his wife, a Navy Lieutenant, at Naval Hospital Bremerton was passed to the highest court in America. On Monday, the petition to argue the case before the Supreme Court was denied.
However, two justices disagreed with the decision – Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – stating they thought the Supreme Court should reconsider the Feres Doctrine ruling, which was decided in 1950. Justice Thomas stated in his dissent he felt the ruling left military personnel to deal with “unfortunate repercussion.” He also quoted a previous dissenting opinion from 1987 that said the Feres Doctrine deserved the criticism it receives.
The denial to hear the case at this level does not impact attempts to change the current state of affairs by legislators, though the past is riddled with unsuccessful attempts to modify the doctrine by Congress. The Pentagon has stated their concern that a change to the policy would potentially allow those injured by medical malpractice to have access to more compensation than those wounded in combat.
With the recent hearings in front of the Senate Armed Service committee there has been an increasing number of questions about what our rights are as military families when it comes to medical malpractice of doctors serving in military hospitals and clinics on base. As it currently stands, doctors, nurses, and medical professionals cannot be sued by patients or their families for any medical malpractice that happens on or off of the battlefield.
The Feres Doctrine has protected doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from being sued by people like Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal who is fighting Stage IV lung cancer because of his doctors missing it time and time again. Or widow Alexis Witt whose husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Patrick Witt, died after a routine appendectomy at the hands of a nurse who already had three fatalities on her hands. Staff Sgt. Witt was given a lethal dose of fentanyl and a breathing tube, causing him to go into respiratory and cardiac arrest and dying after 3 months of being in a vegetative state. And these are just some of the stories.
One mother on a Facebook comment thread noted that her daughter was told she was “making it up” when she continued to complain of leg pain for months. She was eventually diagnosed with Stage III bone cancer. Another mom continues to deal with the repercussions of her son being injected twice with an unknown vaccine while the corpsman that did the injection continues to work at same department at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.
These stories are the reason why new legislation is being put forth to allow service members and their families to sue for medical malpractice. The legislation would only apply to malpractice in the major hospitals in clinics in non-combat zones. Those who support this new legislation say that it will allow patients to have a way of recourse when they are not treated properly or well, and when they are injured or die from doctors, nurses, or medical staff performing improperly. As it stands, all medical professionals are shielded from any repercussions, allowing them to feel as though they can skate by without fear of being sued, being fired, or losing their medical license.
Rep. Jackie Spier, D-Calif. says that, “There are few incentives better than the threat of legal action to push an organization to change its behavior. This would lead to better quality care for our service members and higher levels of readiness.”
But what does this mean for dependents?
Dependents can legally sue the Department of Defense for medical malpractice for themselves or for their children when the malpractice took place in any military hospital. According to Brown Law, “an injured military dependent may file a claim for medical negligence whether injured at an Army, Navy, or Air Force hospital. An active duty person may also file a claim for malpractice done to his or her child or spouse by a military doctor. This is true for military hospitals in all 50 states, all US territories and all military bases overseas.”
You also generally have two years to file a medical malpractice claim for anyone in your family. The time used to calculate the statute of limitations varies in a case by case basis, so if you believe you have a case for medical malpractice it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
Our service members give their whole lives to serve their country. They are forced to live in less than healthy conditions, undergo extreme stress throughout their careers, and are often exposed to toxins and chemicals during deployments. If they cannot get proper medical treatment at home, or at least feel as though they have recourse for them and their families if proper treatment is not given, then how can we say we are doing right by them?
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Check out this article on Baby Injected with Unknown and Undocument Vaccine at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton