In the civilian system, a case of misdiagnosis is a simple material of medical malpractice for which the victim or his victim can recover. In the military, it is even simpler: it is malpractice for which there is no legal recourse. That is the sad lesson being learned by the family of Carmelo Rodriguez, a Marine and combat veteran who died of untreated cancer that could have been treated by relatively modest medical interventions. It is the result of the infamous Feres Doctrine, which continues to do untold harm to thousands of sailors and soldiers.
Under the Feres doctrine, military personnel are barred from using the government for injuries that occur in service — even in peacetime or cases of pure noncombat negligence. It is a creation of the Supreme Court and has been denounced by judges and legislators alike. Yet, Congress has refused to act. After all, giving legal rights to military personnel would be an expensive proposition. Right now, it is cheaper to maim and kill soldiers and sailors in acts of negligence. What employer would not relish such immunity?
For the purposes of full disclosure, I have been a critic of the Feres Doctrine for many years, including a long study on the flawed basis for its creation and its continuing harm for military personnel. Click here and here and here
In this most recent case, you have a once strong and physically robust Marine Platoon leader who served in Iraq. By the time he died this year, he was an 80-pound skeleton. The thing that killed him was an untreated skin cancer that was noted in his physical upon enlistment in 1997. The military doctor noted “melanoma on the right buttocks.” Yet, he was never told to about the finding and it was never treated for eight years until it was too late.
The question remains how long Congress will allow military personnel to be treated as bargain-basement victims of malpractice and other forms of negligence.
For the full story on this Marine, click here