Earlier this month, military service members and their families were granted a possible avenue for compensation when a proposal was included in the final draft of the 2020 defense budget bill. This proposal allows the Department of Defense (DOD) to review claims and pay compensation to military medical malpractice claims, something that before was blocked by the “Feres Doctrine.”
The Feres Doctrine has been in place since the 1950s, stating that the United States is not liable for injuries to members of the armed forces for military medical malpractice. While the bill would grant the opportunity for service members who suffered harm due to malpractice, they would not be allowed to pursue a claim against the government.
“Military medical malpractice is essentially malpractice caused by a Department of Defense health care provider,” Attorney Michael McCready of McCready Law explained. “Malpractice is something that ultimately holds medical professionals, such as doctors, accountable to their patients. While it is still impossible for an injured service member to sue for their injuries, they might still find help and compensation through this new proposal.”
When originally proposed, the Feres Doctrine was meant to provide protection for combat medics who must make snap decisions regarding patient care. Their role is often performed under duress, with limited resources. This means that certain decisions they make may not necessarily be mirrored by a medical provider in a more traditional care setting. However, while the Feres Doctrine makes sense under these conditions, it could be argued that it still leaves service members without recourse if they were injured by a medic.
However, this doctrine was never meant to shield all DOD medical providers from malpractice liability. As a result, this new proposal included in the 2020 defense budget bill could be helpful to service members who are looking to recover compensation for their injuries or worsened medical conditions.