How Do I File a Military Medical Malpractice Suit?


A Guide to Better Understanding the Claim Process

As a member of the US military you are entitled to competent medical care, but if you or a family member has suffered due to the medical negligence of a military doctor then you might be able to sue for military medical malpractice.

If you feel you have a case make sure you talk to someone immediately as the law requires you to pursue legal action as soon as possible. By consulting with a medical malpractice attorney, who has experience of the United States military health care system, you’ll be able to determine if any action should be taken.

Before filing your case you must be aware of the specific laws that protect military doctors, namely that they are protected from medical malpractice lawsuits. However, there are ways to work around this so you or a member of your family can file a medical malpractice lawsuit in a federal court.

How Does the Claim Process Work?

Two separate laws apply to military medical malpractice claims under US federal law. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) applies to any injuries occuring as a result of medical malpractice in a US military hospital or a VA medical center, hospital or clinic. The Military Claims Act (MCA) applies to injuries caused at clinics military medical hospitals overseas. To pursue your case you must file an administrative claim first. Once a claim has been filed they will have 6 months to investigate. If your claim is denied you can pursue the matter with the appropriate United States District Court within 6 months. If your negligent medical care occurs at a military hospital outside of the US, the Military Claims Act states that the claim must be filed within 2 years of the injury. Remember, filing a claim will not damage your military career or put your subsequent health care program in jeopardy. Your attorney will be looking at the facts surrounding your case to determine:

  • When the malpractice took place
  • When you would have been reasonably expected to know you were injured
  • Whether the time for filing a claim can be increased due to the circumstances of your case
  • What options you may have for your injury

What Is the Feres Doctrine?

The Feres Doctrine stops you filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, or any kind of personal injury suit, against the government for injuries you sustain whilst on active duty. This means members of the military can’t sue military doctors, or civilians working in military facilities, for financial compensation. It states each case must be reviewed individually, and does not give any strict rules regarding which cases are to be permitted. The Feres Doctrine was written to stop civilian courts from querying the decisions made by military commanding officers and, in turn, the effectiveness of the US military.

What Is the Federal Tort Claims Act?

The Federal Tort Claims Act is a series of protective laws that govern any lawsuits brought against the US government. If you are a victim of medical negligence in a military hospital, the FTCA allows you to file a case for medical malpractice. Under this act you have two years to file a suit for damages against the government if you are a non-active or retired military member who has been injured due the medical negligence of a military doctor. Also, if you are looking to file a case for the wrongful death of a retired military member this will be done under the FTCA.

Is Medical Malpractice in the Military Going Unreported?

There are many cases of military medical malpractice. Some are not that extreme, just errors that are identified and rectified before anything serious happens. Some cases are far more tragic – one of the most publicized is that of 29-year-old Marine Corps Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez who died from cancer in 2008. In 1997, when Sgt. Rodriguez joined the Marine Corps, a physical exam made note of a melanoma, but he was never informed. The skin abnormality was noted again eight years later, but was still not treated. By the time Rodriguez was told of the diagnosis, it was too late and the cancer had become terminal. Due to his condition he was medically retired and this prevented his family getting funeral benefits. Often the problem of military medical mistakes is problematic due to the ranking system. It is claimed enlisted personnel are too scared to speak up, especially if the mistake is caused by an officer. However, a system that allows mistakes to be reported anonymously is now in place.

No amount of money can make up for an injury or wrongful death due to negligence or medical malpractice, but make sure you seek the correct legal advice. The compensation you could recover will go a long way to cover medical costs and the pain you might have suffered.



The Military Guide was founded by retired Navy Officer, Doug Nordman, author of the book, The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement. The goal of this site is to help you to use your military and veterans benefits to make better informed financial decisions. Thank you for your service!

24 Comments
  1. On March 12th 2018 I had nerve blocker and then right shoulder tendon (shaved off parts off outside and had to add screw to attache inside) surgery.
    – face swoll up and I realized Doc had prescribed Gabapentin (on my Allergy list since 2016) so I quit taking it right away (14th March)
    – none off the pain meds really worked for upper (center) arm pain
    – tingling & numbness in thumb till elbow now 28th May still from elbow but only till wrist (all inside)
    – Codeine, Tramadole, Narco …. even Baclofen & Pamelor do not help to relief me of my pain that get’s increasingly worse
    – 24th May: “EMG test showed denervation of right Bicep muscle”
    – certain spots hurt worse like: thumb, center (side) of shoulder, part above and below elbow, as well as top of hand (thumb till middle finger) on & off.
    – since 0500 this morning arm was shaking till I took Pamelor
    – side of shoulder hurts with every little movement
    – movement off arm becomes increasingly more painful and less

    Do I have a malpractice case?

    • Sandra, it’s possible that this could be a malpractice claim, but you really need to talk to a military lawyer or consult with a civilian malpractice lawyer who’s familiar with the military’s Feres Doctrine.

  2. On April 20 2018 I was notified that I had tested positive for HIV. I’m currently stationed in Korea and knew there was no possible I could’ve gotten infected. All weekend it felt as though I was suffering a nightmare and I would hopefully wake up. Had my wife cheated on me, were my kids at risk, was me not telling them instantly placing them at more risk. I couldn’t have that conversation with my wife over the phone and everyone I asked about said the same. I was notified that I would be sent back to the states immediately due to increased risk of catching other diseases. And everyone doctors commander public health nurse were asking if I had cheated on my wife since arriving in Korea I had only been here a month none of them believed me. I had been tested only few weeks earlier and tested negative. So I was left thinking that maybe my wife had cheated on me all weekend and was I risking my children’s health by not telling her. Then Monday, had to be further interviewed by the public health nurse asking information on all my sexual partners in the past. On Tuesday morning I was notified that someone had made a mistake and that I did in fact not have hiv. At that point and for the remainder of the week I still questioned if it was correct. I called my wife Tuesday to tell her everything. She went the following day to get tested. Her results came back negative yesterday which was a huge relief. I finally am starting only now to believe that it was all a mistake. The doctor explained on Tuesday the way an hiv test works your blood is tested using the Elisa test and if it comes back negative that is the end. If it comes back positive they are supposed to do a confirmatory test called the western blot test. If that result is negative you are negative. However, the patient should not be notified of a positive Elisa test unless the confirmatory test also came back positive. On the 20th when my doctor received the results he called the lab and asked if those were the results of the confirmatory test or not to which the lab said those were the confirmatory test results which is why I was notified in error because the confirmatory test results didn’t come back until Tuesday. I suffered an incredible amount of grief all weekend questioning the health of my children my wife myself and my marriage for naught. Do I have any rights to file a claim against this?

    • Joshua, you’re certainly eligible to file a claim. The investigation of your claim would highlight the medical mistakes and make the command pay more attention to the procedures.

      Again, this is a situation for consulting a JAG.

  3. I recently was medically retired after only 7 1/2 years Active Duty in the Army. While I was in, my husband hurt his leg. really bad. We went to the doctor and had several x-rays and even an MRI done. The doctor in question said she looked at the MRI and said she saw absolutely nothing wrong with his leg. Afterwards, every time we brought up his leg pain (which he has been on Vicoprofen for over a year now for his pain) the doctor just either ignores us or just tells us its just part of his age. One time, this doctor even told my husband to ‘suck it up and be a man.’ My husband has next to no pain tolerance and currently is in a wheelchair because he can barely limp around the house without being in severe pain and can’t even bend his leg in the slightest. Now that I’m out of the Army, we’re trying to get his leg to be properly looked at, but because of his medical records and what his last doctor possibly wrote, I’m afraid it will take even longer for his leg to actually get fixed. He is scheduled for a pain management appointment, but yet again all they are talking about is his bad back and possibly doing an EKG on him. They said they want him to go to a psychologist because they think it could all be in his head, yet when I look at his leg, I can see his tendons pushed out and his knee very swollen.

    I am wanting to sue the crap out of his last doctor but do not know how to go about it.

    • I’m sorry to read about this, Jessica, and I hope the new doctor can help. Ideally they’d do a fresh examination without depending on the other doctor’s records.

      You need to consult a lawyer, either a military lawyer or one with experience at filing suit for military medical malpractice.

  4. My wife had intestinal blockage a few months back…she had rectal cancer about 8 years ago. We went to the base doctors and requested a colonoscopy. They did do the procedure but said they say nothing. Well my wife ended up in the hospital (local). Her doctor performed surgery and discovered a mass that should jave been detected during her colonoscopy. The mass came back as cancer…can we file malpractice for this?

    • Tom, it’s possible that this could be a malpractice claim, but you really need to talk to a military lawyer or consult with a civilian malpractice lawyer who’s familiar with the military’s Feres Doctrine.

  5. I have a question regarding medically necessary plastic surgery performed at an MTF. I had a breast reduction at a military hospital about a month ago. I’m still in the recovery process but nothing has changed/improved since I noticed all the problems.

    I don’t want money I just want them to fix it and to make sure they don’t do this to anyone else! My husband is active duty Army and the surgery was performed at an Air Force hospital. Do I have any options? What should my first step be? Please help.

    • I’m sorry to hear about the surgery, Crystal. Please start by seeing a different doctor at your medical clinic to document the problems and decide how you want them to be fixed.

      I still recommend seeing a lawyer to start the legal inquiry process. If there was negligence (or even misconduct) then the JAG can help protect your rights and make sure the process is followed.

  6. Sorry about your back injury, Mike. Of course your first priority is to work with your doctor to try to reduce the effects of the damage and slow its progress.

    You could ask your doctor whether your current condition is service-connected to the Marine laundry injury. If that incident is documented in your military medical records (or if a fellow recruit or staff can write a “buddy statement” on your behalf) then you may be able to file a claim with the Veterans Administration.

    Talk with your doctor and then find a Veterans Service Officer with a vet’s group in your area like the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, MOAA, or your local VA office.

  7. I was in Marine boot camp in 89 and hurt my back on laundry detail. I went to sickbay the next day, and was told “we couldn’t hurt your back if we hit it with a sledge hammer”. Now 27 years later I have degenerative spinal. Is it too late to do anything about it?
    What can and should I do?
    Thank you so much.

  8. Edward, I’m sorry to read about this.

    Your first step is to talk with the hospital ombudsman and the Tricare rep. You can also file a grievance through the Tricare website (http://www.tricare.mil/Resources/Grievance.aspx). If that doesn’t resolve the situation to your satisfaction then I’d consult a lawyer at the base legal office.

  9. My wife was given a nerve eblation on the wrong leg today? By doing so, she was caused unnecessary pain to the wrong leg. It also caused her to spend the night at the hospital. It was supposed to be a 2 hour total procedure (in and out). It turned into a 10 hour procedure and caused me to not be able to tend to my children and also not be able to finish moving into our house. We had to wait for the sedative to wear off to decide if she wanted to have the surgery or wait and come back another day. She is finally resting comfortably in her hospital bed, but is still unable to use her leg that was given the eblation.
    Any advice.

  10. Hi Doug, my son fell about 12 feet from a wet PT rope and suffered three fractured vertabrae and possibly a head injury although my only evidence there is his massive behavior change. The hospital on post put him on profile with no diagnostics and he was put right back to work. His conduct immediately did a 180 and he was articled out 8 months before commitment was satisfied. We went in front of the review board last June to no avail. Does he have any legal recourse now? His life is basically unmanageable and three years of military service meant nothing. Not to mention his inability to retain information just AT ALL.

    • Shelly, I’m sorry to hear that your son’s injuries haven’t received the proper help. There’s still a possibility of recourse but you’re going to need a civilian lawyer who has dealt with this sort of military malpractice. They’ll probably want to do additional exams or scans to compare their diagnosis to the original exam, and then proceed with a lawsuit.

      Depending on the characterization of your son’s discharge, he may also be eligible for disability benefits from the Veterans Administration. You could start that process either with the same lawyer or with a local chapter of a veteran’s support organization like the American Legion or the Disable American Veterans.

      Finally, you could try sharing this on the PEBForum.com. It’s intended for servicemembers who are facing a Physical Examination Board to stay on active duty, but it was founded by a lawyer and it has many members who are experts at navigating the legal and medical aspects of the disability system.

  11. I have a question, I recently had surgery. The surgeon told me that whoever did my C-section, really put me back together bad. I basically have life long fertility issues. Does anyone know the steps on how to file malpractice law suit? I’m just at the beginning of all of this. Thank you.
    There is much more detail about my current surgery. I had this done to figure out why I was having fertility issues. Come to find out what has been done to me, this is the cause for everything. I was damaged all around and my organs were placed in the wrong spots.

    • I’m sorry to hear about the surgery, Nicole. The first step of a malpractice suit is contacting a lawyer. I’d start with the JAG on your base, review all of your medical records with them, and then decide the best way to proceed.

  12. I’m a former mil spouse. Mil gyn doc performed partial hysterectomy. Afterwards, had severe lower back hip pain. Civ primary doc sent to therapy for deep massage. After months of no relief, then ref to Ortho doc. Ortho do ordered a MRI. Showed Labral tear in hip joint. Had zero accidents or injury to cause. It’s suspected that during hysterectomy leg was twisted or jerked, causing the tear. Had civ doc repair however still not right. I think the mil doc who was a civ, should have ordered the MRI instead of therapy which made worse. What action can I take to pursue? It’s been a few years

    • I’m sorry to hear about your injury, Carol. You definitely should talk with a lawyer who has experience in medical malpractice and who understands military benefits. A civilian lawyer should give you a free consultation and an assessment of whether, after the few years, you still have a claim.

  13. I am active duty army and had a routine arthroscopic knee surgery. Six day post op went to a civilian hospital in severe pain, worried about blood clot or infection. After several doses of pain medication, and no blood work they refused to treat me and I said I wanted to be treated there so they dosed me with ativan and shipped me by ambulence to the military hospital I had the surgery at. Still in excruciating pain, the doctors in the er. Drained fluid from my knee And the lab had contaminated the sample, so they medicated me with pain meds, no antibiotics and was sent home. The next day screaming in pain my husband rushed me back to the military hospital. Again I was told there was nothing wrong, laid there all day screaming and crying, no pain medicatoin could touch the amount of pain I felt. Finally the on call surgeon decided to take me in to surgery. I was admitted to the hospital. Unable to figure out what bacteria caused my septic arthritis, they treated me with vancomyacin and another bread spectrum antibiotic. After six days in the hospital my blood work still showed no improvement and fever, swelling and fluid accumulation continued. On the seventh day another debridement surgery was performed. On day nine they found that they had infected me during the first surgery with the Pantoea sepies bacteria, a plant bacteria extremely rare in humans. The antibiotics were changed. After being stuck three times a day I had no veins left and begged for a picc line to be placed. I went home on. Day 11/with a picc line and six weeks of iv antibiotics. My last surgery was sixth of september 2014. I have been in physical therapy five days a week since the begining of October and still cannot straighten my leg and only can bend passive at 115 degrees. I am still in pain at rest a 2 and during therapy 5 to 6. I was told by my surgeon they had caused the infection but I should be 100. %. I have never had imaging to this knee except for an xray back in 2013. I think ct scan to show permanent joint damage should have been done. I am sick of being in pain and my surgeon not listening. I am a helicopter maintainer and am finding it difficult to do my job without pain and am exhausted all the time. Please, I need advise of what to do.

    • Britt,

      I’m sorry for the botched surgery. I strongly recommend seeing a JAG or a civilian lawyer about filing under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

      If your surgeon is still not listening then you may want to see a Tricare ombudsman/patient advocate about a referral to a new orthopedic surgeon.

      For anyone else contemplating arthroscopic knee surgery, it’s worth reading about these small studies: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183924/ and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183924/table/T1/ and considering physical therapy first. I’ve used it to stabilize my knees despite two torn ACLs and moderate meniscus damage. But every situation is different and I’m not a medical professional, so please do your own research.

  14. Thanks for your comment, Mary!

    Each situation is different, and the details make it complicated. It’s worth asking your medical provider why this wasn’t brought to your attention four months ago. If you’re not happy with their explanation then your next step would be discussing it with a lawyer at your base legal office.

  15. Reply
    Mary Ann Devine Shelton May 6, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    If my medical provider failed to act on an MRI conducted in January 2014 but not even addressed until brought to my attention by an outside civilian doctors office is that provider negligent?? It was discussed in 4/2014 by another outside provider. How is the military doctor negligent?

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