Nearly a year after Fort Bragg soldier with terminal cancer won historic malpractice fight, DOD hasn't taken action

It's nearly one year since we were with Fort Bragg soldier Richard Stayskal in Washington DC for the historic moment when the Stayskal Act, which was part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), became law.

For the first time, it gives active duty service members the right to be compensated for malpractice in military facilities in cases that are unrelated to combat. However, despite more than 100 claims filed by service members and their families with the Department of Defense, not a penny has been paid in any of the cases.

"It's very tense, you know to sit here patiently and, you know, think oh, whoever's doing all this has plenty of time but, you know, not all of us do," Stayskal said in response to the lack of action by the DOD.

ABC11 has been following Stayskal's fight for change for the last two years.

After a missed diagnosis of stage four lung cancer at a military hospital, the Green Beret fought for change to the Feres doctrine, which prevents members of the military from suing for malpractice.

While Stayskal along with his family and attorney Natalie Khawam fought hard for change and accomplished that when the Stayskal Act became law, the Department of Defense has not provided any guidance on how claims filed will be processed or paid.

"I gotta hope that the reason it's taken so long is because it's going to come out perfect, and they don't want to mess it up," Stayskal said.

Khawam, who took on Stayskal's case more than two years ago and has been by his side fighting for change and also represents other servicemen and woman and their families when it comes to claims filed with the DOD, said: "My concern is that a lot of our clients, such as Richard Stayskal, who is the hallmark of this bill, have not heard or received any kind of closure that they deserve."

She says once lawmakers passed the Stayskal Act last December she thought the DOD would take quicker action at explaining how claims would be processed.

"I don't understand how we could be here a year later and they feel like they don't owe the soldiers, and more importantly Richard Stayskal, his compassion and his commitment to this bill, and answer or some kind of resolution or some kind of closure. We hope that you know, that maybe they'll have some Christmas spirit or feeling of responsibility or accountability and say you know what, enough is enough. We're going to start doing our job. We're going to provide those people who deserve some closure some legal recourse. What they're entitled to especially before the holiday," she said.

Khawam says she will not stop fighting for the soldiers she represents.

"They've committed, they served their part, they are, you know, fighting for our country, and I believe that it's only fair thing to ask is some someone on the other end as a DOD to do their job and get them the answers that they deserve."

North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson who worked on getting the Stayskal act passed sent this letter to Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller calling the Defense Department's delay in processing medical malpractice claims "unacceptable."

"It is frustrating because these are real people, real families, real lives we are talking about," Hudson said. "A lot of times these bureaucracies are so detached from the real world that's what you're really fighting. As frustrated as I am, I'm not going to be deterred, I'm not going to slow down, we are going to continue to press and press and until we get the results we need."

Troubleshooter Diane Wilson reached out to the Department of Defense several times, but they did not get back to her. Hudson says he also has not received an update from the DOD.

As the wait from the DOD continues, Stayskal is trying to stay positive while fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis.

"I'm standing. I'm talking and walking around, I'm hanging out with my kids you know I'm doing the best that I can. As far as I'm still stage four still terminally ill. None of that's changed. It's just kind of one day at a time and, hopefully, you know keep waiting for science to outrun me."

Stayskal says time is not always on your side, and he hopes the DOD realizes that.

"If you got folks like myself are terminally ill, you're planning for everything under the sun you know you got your family to look after your kids to look after," he said. "They still have mortgages and bills and everything else piling up when you do, you know the unfortunate happens if you're not around."

He adds the support from everyone who has helped him and his family get through this wait.

"I just want to thank everybody for their support," he said. "There's no way we could have done this without everybody doing it with us and so I just, I appreciate everybody very much and you know I hope everybody enjoys the holidays."
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