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Green Beret with terminal cancer working to change law on malpractice lawsuits

He had no problem stepping forward to defend his country.

Richard Stayskal volunteered and became a Marine Corps sniper – even took an enemy bullet to the chest while deployed – but survived. He later became a Green Beret and, in 2017, when he wasn’t feeling well, he went to the army hospital at Fort Bragg, where he is stationed. They did a CT scan but said he looked fine and sent him home. But he continued to feel ill and was rushed back to the hospital, unconscious, a few months later. The Army doctors looked at his CT scan again, noted there was a mass in his chest but didn’t to anything more to treat it and, worse, never told him.

When Stayskal began coughing up blood a few months later, he asked to see a specialist but the Army told him that would take more than a month. He went to a civilian doctor who quickly noted that he not only had a tumor, but that tumor had doubled in size since the Army few noted it six months earlier.

“By January of 2018, it had metastasized and so now I'm stage IV, terminally ill, right now,” Stayskal said.

As bad as that is, what really upsets Stayskal is that when he tried to set up something to provide for his wife and two daughters, once he’s gone, he discovered that he is not allowed to sue the doctors for malpractice. He and experts in the legal field note that retired soldiers – even prisoners – can sue, but not active-duty soldiers.

“What a heartbreaking story,” says North Carolina 8th district congressman Richard Hudson. “Here's a real, American hero who put his life on the line for this country and to see what he's going through now is tough.”

So Hudson, a Republican, and California Democrat Jackie Speier are working to change that. They are writing a law named for Stayskal that would allow active-duty military personnel to sue for malpractice.

“I'm very confident we're going to be able to move this bill,” said Speier, who is the chairwoman of the House Military Personnel Subcommittee. “How swiftly, I can't say.”

To help with that movement, Stayskal recently had a chance to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, when Pence was at Piedmont Triad International Airport, stopping in Greensboro for a fundraiser. Pence said he wasn’t aware of the situation, but Stayskal says Pence turned immediately to Hudson, who was in the conversation, and said he wanted to know all about it and would support the bill.

Stayskal says he may not be around to benefit from the change in the law, but hopes it will help soldiers in the future.

“You have service members who are going overseas, fighting for our country, they're getting wounded. When they come back, they still have to have surgeries. When that same doctor who neglected to care for me is still caring for patients, is he going to fall into the care of that physician?” Stayskal said. “I could stay at home and feel sad for myself or I could see a problem and try to fix a problem.”

That’s a lesson he says he wants to model for his two little girls.

"The hardest thing I have to do is explain to my children when they ask me, 'This doesn't make sense, how is this happening?' And I have no good answer to give them,” Stayskal recently told Speier’s committee in Washington, D.C.

Soon, he hopes there is one. See what is preventing Stayskal and other soldiers from suing in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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