On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act (S. 1347 / H.R. 1478) in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Schumer’s colleague from New York, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), had already introduced the same legislation in the House of Representatives. This important bill would amend the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to allow members of the armed forces to bring medical malpractice claims against the United States government.
For nearly 60 years, active duty servicemembers have been denied their rights to receive justice when they are injured by the negligence of the U.S. Government due to the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Feres. In Feres, the Court misinterpreted the FTCA, which allows claims to be brought against the United States for certain acts of negligence. As a result, soldiers like Carmelo Rodriguez and his family are denied their right to bring these claims.
The bill would also help servicemembers like Colonel Adele Connell of Utah, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 32 years. On Tuesday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Col. Connell’s story. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast in November 2008 and underwent surgery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center the following month.
“[Col. Connell] underwent surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to remove a cancerous breast says her physician operated on the wrong side of her body, mistakenly removing several healthy lymph nodes and disfiguring her. But the government rejected all claims brought by Col. Adele Connell…under a law that makes it nearly impossible for GIs and their families to sue the military for medical malpractice. Connell hopes a bill the House Judiciary Committee expects to consider today will allow military families like hers to hold the government accountable for noncombat-related injuries.”
Col. Connell’s attorney filed a civil complaint today under the FTCA, but the Army has made clear that it intends to rely upon the Feres doctrine to deny her relief and has already denied the administrative claim filed with the U.S. Army Claims Service.
”These last eight months have been unbelievably difficult,” said Connell, 57, who has served in the military for more than 30 years. “The reason I am going public is that I want to try to improve the military for soldiers serving all over the world.”
Marine Corps Sergeant Carmelo Rodriguez, for whom this bill is named, was told that a dark spot on his buttocks was a wart. Later examination of his medical records, however, shows that military medical personnel noted an abnormal spot on his right buttocks, and went on to describe the suspicious spot as a melanoma. Sgt. Rodriguez was not informed of these observations and none of the examining physicians recommended follow up. Once a healthy and vibrant young man, Sgt. Rodriguez died 8 years later at age 28 while holding the hand of his seven-year-old son.