Troops who win medical malpractice claims against Defense Department hospitals and doctors can now receive up to $750,000 in damages, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The increase, up from the previous $600,000 cap, applies only to non-economic damages, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a DoD spokesman, said in a statement. Economic damages, including loss of wages due to malpractice, are not capped.
The Pentagon is also proposing to amend another rule affecting how much compensation troops receive. Currently, awards damages are reduced by the amount of DoD or VA disability compensation the service member is set to receive once they leave the military.
This new rule would only apply to economic damages. So, if a service member filed a claim for pain and suffering, disfigurement and lost wages, their future disability payments would only be subtracted from their award for the lost wages.
The public has 60 days to comment on the rule change, after which DoD will review feedback and decide whether to make it permanent. Any currently pending claims that would be affected by the rule will be adjudicated once a final decision is made, Ryder added.
The military’s medical malpractice claim infrastructure is still in its infancy. Until 2021, troops and veterans were forbidden from suing DoD for any injuries or illness sustained while serving.
The rule, established as the Feres doctrine by the Supreme Court in 1950, intended to prevent the military from bearing liability for battlefield injuries. But in practice, it also shielded the military from medical malpractice, harassment and sexual assault claims, which civilians ― including DoD civilians ― are free to file in civil court.
Earlier this year, the man whose namesake bill prompted Congress to allow medical malpractice claims said his own filing had been denied.
“The denial of my claim by the Department of Defense, in my opinion, is a blatant act of betrayal, not only to myself, but every service member out there,” Army Master Sgt. Richard Stayskal said in a March press conference.
Stayskal visited Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, multiple times over a period of years with complaints of throat pain before he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer in 2017. A review of his medical records showed a lump on a scan that was never given a proper follow-up.
Stayskal and his wife both filed $20 million claims for pain and suffering, well over the now $750,000 cap for such claims.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.