U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal was shot in the lungs during his tour of duty. He was enrolled in driving school but had noticed he was having trouble breathing, so he went to the doctor to see what the issue was. The doctor ran a CT scan on the Green Beret and determined everything was fine.
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Feeling as if his body was shutting down, Stayskal got permission to visit a civilian doctor that forever changed his life — he had stage 3 lung cancer. “My vision was going out. I was passing out sitting down,” Stayskal said. “I don’t know what to do. Nobody will take me seriously. Nobody seems to care.”
The civilian doctor explained that his doctor visit earlier that year should have shown the severity of his cancer and would have been easy to diagnose, Coffee or Die reported.
“Somebody documented it, measured it, noted it,” Stayskal said. Stayskal’s loved ones urged him to sue for malpractice, only to find out nobody would take the case. All lawyers referred him to the Feres doctrine which states active duty military personnel cannot sue the federal government for malpractice.
Stayskal finally found Natalie Khawam, a lawyer who wasn’t afraid to take on the government. “The spirit of the law, the Feres doctrine, was that if a medic was out in combat with a soldier and malpractice happens, the medic and the DoD cannot be sued for malpractice because it’s in combat, in the middle of war,” Khawam explained.
She added: “That’s understandable. It’s an emergency situation, you don’t have all the equipment you need. That interpretation is fair. However, it’s being misapplied today.”
The issue previously went to the Supreme Court, but it was determined that the law was being followed. They added that they don’t make the laws but simply follow them.
Since being diagnosed, Stayskal has been speaking with members of Congress to highlight the problem. California Representative Jackie Speier has been in Stayskal’s corner since she heard about his hardships.
The Department of Defense Appropriations Act is to be voted on next year. Speier has tried to propose a change to the doctrine, but the language in the new bill is not going over well with members of Congress.
Sen. Lindsey Graham announced he would be blocking the doctrine change stating: “We have compensation for people who are killed or injured in the military,” he said recently. “We’re not going to open Pandora’s Box.”
Stayskal has been adamant about leaving his wife and child something they could live off of once he is gone, and they’re hoping the change to the bill will allow for some form of compensation.