Green Beret who fought to change law amid cancer battle attends State of the Union

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON (WFLA) – Sgt. First Class Richard Stayskal spent much of 2019 in Washington lobbying to change a law that prevented active-duty military members from suing the government for medical malpractice. But on Feb. 4, 2020, just about one month after the law was finally changed, he returned to the Capitol to attend the State of the Union as a guest.

The Army Green Beret from North Carolina was invited by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) to attend President Donald Trump’s address on Tuesday.

“He’s a real American hero who unfortunately was a victim of a medical malpractice incident,” Rep. Hudson said.

Stayskal, who is battling Stage 4 lung cancer, was the subject of more than a dozen 8 On Your Side investigative stories last year. Army doctors twice failed to tell him about a spot they discovered on his lung in 2017. Six months later, he was rushed to a civilian hospital and found out he had lung cancer.

A 70-year-old Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres Doctrine prevented Sgt. Stayskal, as well as other active-duty military members, from suing the government for negligence. So he and his Tampa-based attorney Natalie Khawam teamed up with 8 On Your Side senior investigator Steve Andrews to get his story out and press lawmakers for answers.

While battling cancer, Stayskal spent time on Capitol Hill lobbying to get the law changed.

“Rather than going away and being quiet with his family, he went out and fought for other soldiers in his circumstance and helped me change the law,” Rep. Hudson said.

His work paid off late last year when President Trump signed the Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019 into law. Thanks to Stayskal, military members can now hold the government accountable for negligence and malpractice by military physicians. That change went into effect Jan. 1.

The Green Beret said he hopes this shows members of Congress what they can accomplish by working together.

“Just keep looking forward to the future and just try to come together and solve problems,” Stayskal said. “This bill was just one example of everybody coming together and looking through the issues and seeing that there was one important issue that needed to be fixed.”

Khawam urges service members who believe they are malpractice victims to file claims as soon as possible, as there is a 3-year statute of limitations. She told us the Department of Defense will be creating a department to deal with medical malpractice. She estimates it will take the Defense Department a year to set up its claims review process.

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