CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – After a year and a half of delays and stalling, the Pentagon is finally ready to start processing millions of dollars in military medical malpractice claims, perhaps by the end of the month, FOX 46 has learned.
“I’m still at a loss for words,” said Army Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal. “But it’s a great feeling.”
It is a win for victims and their families who, up until now, have not had any recourse or measure of justice when it comes to botched and negligent medical care by military doctors.
“This is amazing,” said Stayskal. “And I’m grateful and so happy for everyone who is going to get justice.”
It is a battle the Purple Heart recipient has been waging for three years. FOX 46 first introduced viewers to Stayskal in 2018. Doctors not only misdiagnosed his lung cancer as pneumonia but never told him a second review recommended a biopsy, Womack Army Medical Center records showed. Stayskal is stage 4 terminal.
“I feel good,” said Stayskal. “Everything’s going well. Really no reason to keep thinking about it and dwelling on it. Just keep moving forward.”
Stayskal is married with two daughters and worries about what will eventually happen to them. Because of a 1950 Supreme Court ruling, known as the Feres Doctrine, the doctors who botched his care are shielded from being sued.
If Staysskal was a civilian, he could take them to court.
“They should not be denied the same rights that the rest of the people, like you and I,” said Stayskal’s attorney, Natalie Khawam. “They’re fighting for our freedoms, but they don’t have the same freedoms.”
A series of FOX 46 investigations got the attention of lawmakers in 2018. Congressman Richard Hudson (R-Concord) co-sponsored a “landmark” bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), which was signed into law in 2019. It gives the Department of Defense $400 million to investigate and pay out military medical malpractice claims for the first time.
“They’re facing terminal diagnosis now and facing questions of, ‘How will my wife and children survive once I’m gone?,” said Hudson. “This hopefully brings some peace of mind to those tragic stories.” Medical malpractice claims delay ‘unacceptable,’ Rep. Hudson tells DoD
Hudson was inspired to work on the bill because of Stayskal, whose story “touched my heart.”
After a year and a half of delays, the Pentagon is now poised to pay. An interim rule was issued over the weekend. Once it is published in the Federal Register, millions of dollars in claims that are languishing can begin to be paid out.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be in Congress,” Hudson told FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant. “But I doubt I’ll ever do anything as important as this.”
Hudson says the DoD is already processing the claims, filed by active-duty service members and their families, which are unrelated to combat or training. Stayskal, and other servicemembers, could begin to be compensated by the end of the month, Hudson said.
“There’s nothing better than to see justice prevail,” said Khawam, who credits FOX 46 for making an impact on Capitol Hill.
“You were the nucleus from this,” Khawam told Grant.
There are at least 150 claims filed with the Pentagon, Khawam said.
Stayskal’s wife, Megan, now works for Khawam’s law firm helping soldiers get the same justice her husband will now finally receive.
Khawam says Netflix is currently shooting a documentary that will showcase Stayskal’s story. HBO Max is also planning a miniseries, she said, which will continue to give Stayskal’s fight even more national attention.
“I, from the bottom of my heart, will always be dedicated and committed to you,” Khawam told Grant, “for what you’ve done for our military and your viewers.”