Army docs fail to tell soldier about spot on lung; cancer goes untreated for 6 months

8 On Your Side

Army doctors saw the spot on his lung, but failed to tell him. 

Now 37-year-old Sgt. First Class Rich Staykal is fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.  

An old law called the Feres Doctrine prevents this soldier and the 1.3 million active duty troops from suing for malpractice and damages.

Rich Stayskal focuses on his wife and two little girls these days. In his early 20s, he focused on staying alive.

Rich and other Marines came under fierce attack in the Iraqi town of Ramadi in 2004.

On their way to victory, the Marines suffered dozens of casualties.

A sniper shot Rich. That wound did nothing to deter Rich.

After his tour with the Marines, Rich joined the Army.

“I wanted to serve my country,” he said.

Now a Green Beret, Rich faces another life battle; Stage 4 lung cancer.

Not only was the diagnosis a shock, Rich was even more stunned to learn doctors at Fort Bragg discovered a spot on his lung in January 2017.

They noted it again in May, but failed to tell him.

“To note something and then document it and still not say anything just blows my mind,” Rich’s wife Megan Stayskal explained.

“Instead, it went six months without being treated, to where it doubled in size and had spread from one organ to another,” Rich added.

Rich learned of the disease, after an  emergency trip to a civilian hospital.

The explanation he got from the military about doctors failing to inform him was hardly satisfactory.  It was, “Sometimes things happen.”

“It’s not acceptable at all,” Rich stated.  “Not when you knew about it, not when you documented it, you just failed to follow through with your job.” 

“I mean, the second time around it gets noted and they don’t tell him, that’s such gross malpractice,” Rich’s attorney Natalie Khawam stated. 

However, a 1950s law called the Feres Doctrine prevents active duty troops from suing military doctors for malpractice.

“Just because the law says this, doesn’t mean it’s right,” Khawam said. 

The Feres Doctrine was drawn up to help protect the military against lawsuits and damages for battlefield decisions.

The Stayskal’s contend the Feres Doctrine is misused.  The claim it provides shelter for bad doctors. 

That’s not what the goal of the feres Doctrine was, to employ bad doctors and make sure that they get away with it,” said Khawam.

“They should be accountable just the way a civilian doctor in the private sector is accountable for their own actions,” Megan Stayskal added.

“Everybody else in the country can have that right but we can’t as military men and women and I don’t see how that is possible,” Rich said

Natalie Khawam is writing legislation to modify the Feres Doctrine. 

“Just like any other law that’s wrong, make it right, challenge that law,” Natalie Khawam said. “I’m not saying that they’re entitled to more rights, just the same rights, equal rights.” 

She proposes changing the law to say members of the military have a right to legal recourse in the case of malpractice. Khawam also proposes a requirement that Department of Defense doctors and physicians working for the VA carry malpractice insurance. Her proposal would also require the DOD and VA to report each year how much malpractice has occurred, and which doctors are involved.  

Khawam says she has been in Washington, D.C. meetings with members of Congress, attorneys, policy makers and thinktanks to get the law changed.  

For Rich Stayskal and his family, time is of the essence.

These days you probably won’t find this Green Beret spending time on a rifle range.

He is more likely at Moffitt Cancer Center receiving treatment, on Capitol Hill lobbying Congress to change the Feres Doctrine and spending as much time as possible with his wife and two young daughters.

If you know of something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.

Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com
 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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