Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez, CBS News
Died Before He Could Tell Story
Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez wanted to talk to CBS News last February about the melanoma the military had diagnosed in 1997 but never recommended a follow-up.
When he finally had what the military on several occasions had written off as a “wart” diagnosed in 2006, it was stage 4 melanoma.
The 29-year old had invited CBS News to his New York home to talk about the military immunity known as the Feres Decision that bars military personnel from suing over medical malpractice. Military personnel and their families lose that right that U.S. civilians enjoy, even though they have been fighting for America in a foreign land.
Whittled down to 80 pounds, Sgt. Rodriguez died as the CBS newsman came to tell his story.
Now in a move to reverse the controversial 59-year old Supreme Court ruling, the House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to repeal the Feres Doctrine.
The 14-12 vote Wednesday for the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act (H.R. 1478/ S. 1347), sponsored by Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), was sent to the full House where the bill stands a good chance of being approved.
In 1950, the Court ruling prevented active duty military personnel from suing the government for malpractice, regardless of where the malpractice occurred. The bill approved this week would continue to ban battlefield injury claims but would allow lawsuits for non-combat injuries such as the misdiagnosis suffered by Sgt. Rodriguez.
"This bill benefits trial lawyers, not service members,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who supported a move to further limit fees for lawyers representing potential plaintiffs.
Republicans say the bill will boost health care costs by $2.9 billion over the next 30 years even though it would not extend protections to non-military dependants.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-NY, whose subcommittee backed the bill, said eliminating the lawsuit ban was a question of fundamental fairness.
Urging defeat of an amendment to strip the bill and instead refer the issue for a further study, Cohen said, "We've had 60 years to study it."
Rep. Dan Lundgren, R-CA, citing all the calls for health care reform, said the panel was squandering an opportunity to address the issue head-on.
"We're just adding the military to a system that is so screwed up," reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The American Association for Justice says the legislation would also help Army Colonel Adele Connell, who had 16 lymph nodes removed from the wrong breast during surgery by military doctors. Today she suffers from a burning sensation down her right arm and has no legal recourse against the government. #