Fort Bragg soldier fights for change in Washington after medical mistake will cost him his life

WASHINGTON, DC (WTVD) -- A Fort Bragg Green Beret fighting for his life is also fighting for change that would affect all active duty military.

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal testified before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, at a hearing called "Feres Doctrine -- a Policy in Need of Reform?"

The Feres Doctrine dates to the 1950s and is in place to prevent active duty servicemen and women from suing the government for medical malpractice.

WATCH: Stayskal's testimony Tuesday in Washington.
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Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal testifies Tuesday in Washington.

Stayskal testified, "I feel this is a very important issue to the military community that requires Congressional intervention to address and fix how this mistaken doctrine is used to strip hundreds of service members, like myself, and their families, of the same rights that the rest of the citizens of our country have when it comes to medical malpractice."

READ MORE: Transcript of Stayskal's full testimony (.pdf)

We first told you about Stayskal last fall. The Purple Heart recipient who is stationed at Fort Bragg and lives in Pinehurst with his family, has stage four lung cancer.

It's a cancer diagnosis that he says should have been caught earlier but was missed by military doctors at Womack Army Medical Center during a routine physical in January 2017 when Stayskal was given the all-clear during that physical.

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal

Shortly after the physical, Stayskal's health declined and six months later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

If the diagnosis wasn't tough enough to deal with, he learned during that routine January 2017 physical that doctors failed to identify a large tumor in the upper-right lobe of his lung during a CT scan.

While testifying at the hearing, Stayskal told the committee, "The failure of the military doctor's gross negligence/failure to detect and treat my cancer when it was first noted on the CT scan done on me in January 2017 is the mistake that allowed the aggressive tumor to double in size and rob me and my family of my life, without any recourse due to a 1950's Supreme Court case that created the Feres Doctrine."

Stayskal is being represented by attorney Natalie Khawam with the Whistleblower Law Firm.

"The only people barred in the United States of America to sue for a malpractice claim are active soldiers, active military. How is that possible?" Khawam said.

The Feres Doctrine is meant to prevent troops and their families from suing the military for injury or death brought on by their service.

"They don't want people suing because you know you're in combat, it's an emergency situation," Khawam said. "You know that's understandable, but you know, there's no combat, there's no war at Womack Hospital."

Stayskal has a wife and two daughters, and during the hearing he said, "I want to say that this does affect me obviously, but my children are the true victims. They now will grow up without a father. Someone that will teach them how to drive, walk them down the aisle when they get married. They seek counseling and special treatment at school. One of the biggest things they try and understand is how this happened."

Defense advocates argued that changing the Feres Doctrine would prompt many frivolous lawsuits against the military.

Stayskal testified during the hearing that it's time for a change,

"In the end, it is essential to the underlying fairness of our country to overturn the Feres Doctrine. The Feres Doctrine is a judicially created atrocity (that) should not be allowed to continue," he said. "There is no reason for the disparity in rights between our active-duty military and the rest of our country's citizens. We deserve equal protections under the law."

After hearing testimony from Stayskal, Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the "SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019."

"It will provide an opportunity for service members who are victims of medical malpractice to file claims in the federal tort claims act," Speier said.

NC Congressman Richard Hudson supports the bill.

"Representing the men and women stationed at Fort Bragg and their families is one of the greatest honors of my life," said Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina's 8th District. "My priority is doing right by my constituent Rich and making sure our service members and their families receive the support and top-notch health care they were promised. I admire Rich and the Stayskal family's courage to advocate for these changes, and I am proud to introduce this legislation today with a bipartisan group of colleagues."

Also Tuesday, Stayskal's attorney filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Department of Defense and others today in the NC Courts.
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