On Dec. 17, The U.S. Senate approved the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 86-8, which contains a provision allowing active-duty military personnel and their surviving families to seek compensation for military medical malpractice. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law. According to Politico, the president is expected to sign the 2020 NDAA at 7:30 p.m. (EST) on December 20, at Joint Base Andrews before flying Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
While the bill doesn’t allow military personnel to sue for medical negligence, it will allow active-duty victims or their families to file a claim with the Defense Department for medical negligence or malpractice by military health providers in medical facilities outside of combat zones. In the event that the DoD finds the claim valid, if it is determined that the case deserves less than $100,000, the DoD will pay the claim directly to the member or beneficiary. Claims with injuries that rise above $100,000 will be forwarded to the Treasury Department for payment.
As in most cases of personal injury, victims will have two years after the malpractice incident to file a claim. However, this two-year limit doesn’t apply to cases within the first year of the legislation taking effect. In other words, those seeking compensation for injuries in 2020 will be able to file claims for cases as far back as 2017.
The House approved the bill on Dec. 11 which authorized a total of $738 billion in defense spending. This is up from $716 billion allocated to the military defense budget in 2019. However, it’s below the administration’s $750 billion request. The NDAA is part of a $1.4 trillion spending package.
What is the history of the Feres Doctrine?
The Feres Doctrine has survived several legal challenges since a 1950 Supreme Court ruling made it so the U.S. is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for active-duty injuries. In many cases, military and retired military have been dissuaded from even filing lawsuits for medical malpractice because of the Feres Doctrine.
Over the last seven decades, the Supreme Court has declined to hear cases because it considers the Feres Doctrine settled law. To side-step this, attorneys for Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal decided to lobby Congress for a policy change.
What else is in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act?
The top goal for the Republican Administration in the White House was the creation of the Space Force. In its current form, Space Force falls under the Department of Air Force. The new military branch will be led by a chief of space operations.