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Mike Ferrara
Mike Ferrara
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Time to End Anti-Military Feres Doctrine and Let Our Soldiers Sue for Malpractice.

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Because of a 1950 Supreme Court ruling called the Feres Doctrine, active-duty military personnel and their families are prohibited from suing the federal government for injuries unrelated specifically to military service. Practically, this means that military personnel, unlike every other US citizen, can’t sue the federal government for medical malpractice.

Last March, we wrote about Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez, a Marine who died at 29 from skin cancer that military doctors failed to diagnose for almost nine years. Because of the Feres Doctrine, his family was not allowed to pursue an otherwise meritorious malpractice case.

Now, 20-year-old Airman Colton Read is fighting for his life after a doctor at the David Grant USAF Medical Center on Travis Air Force Base in Northern California accidentally nicked his aorta during a laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, ultimately resulting in amputation of both Read’s legs as well as other life-threatening complications. Since the accident, Read has undergone several surgeries, but remains in critical condition.

Legally, there is nothing Read’s family can do. The Feres doctrine prevents them from seeking compensation for this soldier’s injuries, which are the fault of the operating doctor and unrelated to Read’s military service.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., is sponsoring a bill that essentially would overturn the Feres Doctrine, a legal precedent that would prevent Read or his family from suing the hospital and the doctors involved in his care. The bill would give military members the right to sue for medical malpractice.

"As people come to focus on this and understand [the bill], they would say it’s completely reasonable," Hinchey said.

Hinchey said he is aware of what happened to Read, and he said the case appears similar to others he has heard about while drafting and pushing the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act of 2009. MARK NORRIS / The Dallas Morning News

The act, named in honor of Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez, would allow for medical malpractice to be considered in cases where injuries were not sustained in combat. Introduced by Hinchey in 2008, the act has since been approved, and is currently pending before the entire committee.

It is time for the Feres Doctrine to end. Our honorable servicemen and women deserve quality health care for the sacrifices they make, and compensation when their health is needlessly jeopardized by medical malpractice. We can’t let one more family lose a child, brother or sister to military medical negligence.