Military Healthcare Capacity

The bill requires the secretary of Defense to develop a standard measurement for determining the capacity of local military healthcare networks to be used in any future realignment proposals and provide transition plans to any servicemember of beneficiary whose care is affected by that realignment.

These restrictions don’t apply to billets that have remained unfilled since October 2018 or to nonclinical billets, as long as the amount of those billets does not exceed 1,700.

This year’s NDAA also includes a provision allowing servicemembers or their families to file medical malpractice claims for incidents that led to personal injury or death caused by a DoD healthcare provider.

Prior to this legislation, servicemembers were not able to file medical malpractice claims under the Feres doctrine. Named after a 1950 court case, the rule barred servicemembers from collecting reimbursement for injuries caused during the performance of their duties. The doctrine was created in large part to prevent lawsuits stemming from split-second decisions made by medics on the battlefield.

The bill still prohibits servicemembers and families from suing for damages but authorizes $400 million over 10 years, from which the secretary of Defense can pay out claims for actual injuries. The DoD will be in charge of investigating and paying out the claims.

This revision to the Feres doctrine came about in large part due to the advocacy of one particular servicemember. Sgt 1st Class Richard Stayskal, who had been having trouble breathing for months before arriving at the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg in January 2017. A scan led to a diagnosis of pneumonia and he was sent home. Six months later, a civilian doctor diagnosed him with Stage IV lung cancer. When his civilian physicians looked at the chest scan from January, they clearly saw the mass that went unnoticed by clinicians at Womack. Stayskal lobbied Trump and legislators and became the namesake of the legislation revising the Feres doctrine. That legislation was eventually rolled into the NDAA.