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‘They’re judge and they’re jury’ — How the military’s malpractice claims process is failing troops and families

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Special Forces Master Sgt. Richard Stayskal began having problems breathing in March 2017, and within months he was coughing up blood. Military doctors were unable to determine what was wrong but suspected that Stayskal was suffering from pneumonia or allergies. It was not until he saw a civilian pulmonary specialist that Stayskal learned he had lung cancer.

Stayskal became an advocate for service members to be able to hold the military accountable for medical malpractice. In December 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act enacted a law named after Stayskal that finally gave troops and their families the right to file medical malpractice claims against the military.

But nearly three years later, Stayskal, whose lung cancer is now at Stage IV, is still waiting for his medical malpractice claim to be resolved and he has been given no indication of how long the process will take.

Stayskal’s attorney filed his medical malpractice claim on Jan. 1, 2020. Since then, he said he has heard a variety of excuses about why his claim is still being considered, but the process has been so opaque that he is not sure what the real holdup is.

“It just feels like they can take an infinite amount of time, and let’s say 99 doctors agree that I was wronged, it was egregious, it was malpractice, it’s all clear, cut and dry; but they’re going to keep on going to no end to find the one that says: ‘Ah, no, no I totally disagree; that was never malpractice.’”

Stayskal is hardly alone. reporter Patricia Kime recently revealed that of the 448 medical malpractice claims that have been filed with the departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, only 11 have been settled — about 2.5%.

“The military has deliberately avoided approving legitimate claims to save costs because Congress has not appropriated sufficient resources to compensate aggrieved parties,” said Sean Timmons, a managing partner of the Tully Rinckey law firm’s office in Houston. “Additionally, the very people accused of misconduct are the ones themselves reviewing the allegations of malpractice and gross negligence.”

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