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Healthcare Errors Hidden from Service Members

Medical malpractice can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, as the VA Hospital scandal showed, members of our military are not immune from this. Whether it is missed or delayed diagnosis, health professional error, or pharmacy error, service members can fall victim to the exact same kinds of malpractice civilians suffer from. Unfortunately malpractice that happens to military members can be even harder to uncover than the malpractice that happens to civilians due to military regulations regarding service member health information.

Active Duty Service Members have Different Rights from Civilian Patients

The New York Times recently reported on the difficulties of obtain health information about service members. The report explained that tens of thousands of serious medical mistakes happen each year at American medical centers. It goes further, however, and explains that the 1.3 million men and women who are serving active duty in the United States military have almost no way to hold the system that provides their medical care accountable for any errors. These men and women are required to use the military medical system. They are not allowed to obtain outside medical care without specific approval. However, if they are harmed or killed by the health care that the military provides them they or their survivors do not have the same rights to file medical malpractice claims that civilians have. AS a result of this inability to hold the medical system accountable some service members are given substandard care.

These Medical Professionals are Also Treating Civilians, and are Being Reported for Misconduct

The medical professionals who treat active duty military members also serve those military members’ civilian family members. Since the same staff is treating both civilians and service members in the same facilities, one would think that the number of findings of unacceptable care would be similar in both populations. However, between 2003 and 2009, the military only reported 15 clinicians for providing substandard care to service members while it reported 710 clinicians for providing substandard care to civilians. Service members make up one-fifth of the patients these doctors see. So if the numbers were 5 to 1, it would make sense. But instead the numbers are 47 to 1. This shows that substandard treatment of service members is going under reported.

Ability to Sue for Medical Malpractice is Vital to Patient Care

The problems in the treatment of active duty service members who cannot sue for medical malpractice demonstrate the problems we would all have if we lost our right to sue for medical malpractice. States like Georgia have considered laws that would limit rights to sue for medical malpractice and replace those rights with administrative remedies. Movement toward administrative remedies would be just like a move to the military system that lacks accountability for doctors who hurt their patients. This would be bad for patients and bad for their families.

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