Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, a North Carolina Green Beret, filed a lawsuit against the federal government for medical malpractice in the amount of $5 million Wednesday, one minute after the law that was named after him went into effect.
“We’re grateful that Congress passed our Bill providing our Troops the right to file a claim for medical malpractice,” said Stayskal’s attorney Natalie Khawam, in a text message to Fox 46 in Charlotte. “We are proud to be the first to file a claim under our new law, the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act.”
Stayskal, 38, began his struggle in January 2017 when he was prepping for dive school and was ordered to have a CT scan, due to injuries he’d previously suffered in Iraq.
“I was having a little trouble breathing, some coughing and wheezing but I passed the test just fine,” he said in a previous interview with Fox News.
According to Stayskal, the following six months were a mountain of red tape and bureaucracy. He was also misdiagnosed with pneumonia and got sent home from the emergency room, despite being heavily symptomatic and having a mass on his lung. He was shuffled from doctor to doctor as his condition deteriorated.
After several more weeks, he was finally sent off-base to seek further treatment, only to be told in June 2017 that he had developed stage three lung cancer. The mass had spread to the left side of his neck, spleen, lymph nodes, liver and right hip joint. It later developed into stage four, which means he could be dead in a matter of months.
Stayskal, a husband and father of two, fought against what is known as the Feres Doctrine, which was born out of a 1950 Supreme Court decision. It blocks troops from seeking medical malpractice damages against the government for issues related to their military service.
Government advocates have reportedly argued against changing the Feres Doctrine for fear of frivolous lawsuits, but in Stayskal’s case, he says it isn’t about the money.
“This isn’t about the money. This is about accountability. You can’t say, ‘Whoops’ and play with people’s lives and say nothing can be done,” he told Fox News.
On Dec. 17, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (also called, The SFC Richard Stayskal Medical Accountability Act) by a vote of 86-8. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 19.
The law allocates $400 million to the Defense Department to conduct investigations and initiate payouts for each claim internally. This is only reserved for cases unrelated to combat.
“We’re just beginning,” said Khawam. “We welcome and are excited for more great things to come in 2020!!!”
Stayskal previously testified before Congress in April 2018 and expressed regret about his situation.
“I can remember waking up to my wife and then learning that the reason I had been feeling like I was dying was because I had lung cancer,” he told members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.
“I want to say that this does affect me obviously, but my children are the true victims. They now will grow up without a father. Someone that will teach them how to drive, walk them down the aisle when they get married. They seek counseling and special treatment at school,” Stayskal added. “One of the biggest things they try and understand is how this happened.”
Stayskal spent almost 17 years in the military — first as a Marine and later as a Special Forces soldier in the Army. The Purple Heart recipient survived three combat deployments to Iraq, along with an enemy bullet through the chest, before winning what could be his final battle.
Foxnews’ Hollie McKay contributed to this report