Rep. Speier’s Bill Amending the Feres Doctrine to Allow Servicemembers to Sue for Medical Malpractice Included in House Defense Bill

Office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier

July 10, 2019

Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s (CA-14) bill creating a medical malpractice exemption to the Feres Doctrine was included in the House draft of the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2020. Since 1950, the Feres Supreme Court decision has prevented active duty servicemembers from suing the military for negligence, denying them the same rights held by their spouses and families, all other federal workers, and even prisoners. If enacted, the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 would finally allow active duty victims of malpractice at large Department on Defense (DOD) facilities to sue the DOD. SFC Stayskal was diagnosed improperly by military medical providers and suffers from terminal Stage IV lung cancer.

“Feres represents the worst of judicial legislating and it’s long past time that Congress fix this injustice,” said Rep. Speier, chair of the House Armed Service Military Personnel Subcommittee said. “Our servicemembers deserve the right to sue the government when negligent medical care results in their injuries or deaths. This victory is due in large part to the commitment, passion, and advocacy of SFC Stayskal, who responded to the botched diagnosis as a true hero by continuing to serve with his fellow soldiers and fighting for legislation to ease this unimaginable burden for his wife and two young daughters as well as all those who come after him.”

Rep. Speier chaired a hearing on the Feres Doctrine last April, at which SFC Stayskal testified. The other witnesses were Alexis Witt, the widow of Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Witt, who died during a routine appendectomy, and former Air Force judge advocate Rebecca Lipe, who was left with debilitating abdominal pain, 10 related surgeries and permanent damage to her reproductive organs after wearing ill-fitting body armor during a 2011 deployment in Iraq. The Feres Doctrine prevented all three from seeking justice in the wake of egregious medical malpractice.

Rep. Speier’s bill has 13 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of numerous military and veteran service organizations, including the Military Officers Association of America, Blue Star Families, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Center for Law and Military Policy.

A copy of the amendment text can be found here.