Amid talks of border security and funding, some lawmakers are taking a crack at systems that prevent military members from pursuing malpractice suits. That’s right—members of the armed forces are prohibited from suing the military (or its practitioners) for medical malpractice.
Jackie Speier (D-CA), the new chairwoman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, brought the issue to the attention of the House and fellow subcommittee members in her first speech.
The Feres Doctrine is the prevailing legal precedent that applies to medical care in the military. Servicemembers “who are injured as a result of military service [are prevented ] from successfully suing the federal government,” according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute. This means that military members who sustain injuries while performing their military duties are entitled to care but not damages if that care does not successfully remedy their condition. This makes sense on the battlefield or in war, when injuries may outpace the ability of medical treatment available.
However, critics say that the fact that the Feres Doctrine is used to prohibit military members and their families from pursuing medical malpractice claims during routine or non-service related treatment is pushing things too far.
The family of a Navy Lieutenant who died during childbirth was unable to take legal action in 2014. An Army Green Beret battling terminal cancer is suing the Army for misdiagnosing his tumor as pneumonia. If a similar case had occurred with civilian doctors, it would be an obvious case for medical malpractice, said experts who looked at his medical scans.
Speier said that she wanted to “tackle critical issues that impact not only our service members but their families who also bear the burden of sacrifice and commitment to our country,” according to a report published in the Military Times. The responsibility for changing laws rests with Congress. Speier and other lawmakers will be looking at these cases and how the law should be changed in the upcoming weeks.