We’ve written several times about the “Feres Doctrine” (here, here, here), a 60-year-old policy that effectively bars U.S. military personnel from suing the government for injuries caused by “the negligence of others in the armed forces.” It has been interpreted to extinguish the legal rights of those who serve in war and survive, only to return home but are seriously injured as a result of gross medical malpractice by military health care providers.
The stories have focused on Airman 1st Class Colton Read, 20, from Arlington (see video below). In a nutshell, Read was undergoing gallbladder surgery at David Grant USAF Medical Center in Northern California when his doctor nicked his aorta, causing massive blood loss and requiring the partial amputation of his legs. Read continues to undergo related surgeries. Still because of the “Feres Doctrine,” Read has absolutely no ability to sue his doctor and obtain any compensation for this—a right given to even state and federal prisoners.
Fortunately, there’s currently a bill making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at restoring service members’ right to sue the government for injuries suffered due to non-combat-related negligence. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last month.
Although previous legislative attempts to repeal the Feres Doctrine haven’t gotten very far, according to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), sponsor of the current House bill, “There is a strong possibility and likelihood [the House] legislation will be taken up before the August recess.”
Even so, according to University of Texas law professor Michael Sturley, the Feres Doctrine retains “support from those in the armed services who believe its removal would interfere with military discipline and the chain of command structure,” despite the fact that “medical malpractice cases,” have “nothing to do with military discipline.”
“Most people think we take care of our troops,” said Sturley. “But this shows we really don’t.”