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End This Hidden Risk to Military Families

| May 23, 2019

feres doctrine

No claims. (Shutterstock)

By Stacy Bannerman

When our loved ones join the military, we know that wearing the uniform could cost them their lives.

Military family members do all kinds of calculations about the potential price of serving this nation. We run the numbers and wargame the risks; we bargain with God and make deals with the devil hoping our service member never becomes a casualty.


But what most of us don’t know is that when our family members sign up, they sign away some of their rights — and ours.

Under what’s called the Feres Doctrine, members of the Armed Forces and their families are prohibited from filing claims against the government for death or injury arising from military service.

But it doesn’t just apply to military settings or deaths in the field. The Feres Doctrine also shields military medical providers from malpractice suits by troops — and their dependents.

Feres has been around since a 1950 Supreme Court ruling, but military recruiters never tell the families that it applies to them, too.

Tricia Radenz found out in the worst way possible. On June 9, 2009, her 11-year-old son, Daniel, hanged himself at home.

Like a lot of military kids, his father’s repeat tours were taking a toll. After his dad deployed to Iraq for the second time, military psychiatrists at Fort Hood’s Darnall Army Medical Center prescribed Daniel the drug Celexa.

Celexa has never been approved for pediatric use. It carries a “black box” label, referring to the FDA warning required for prescription drugs that can cause serious injury or death.

other-wordsIn 2003, the U.S. government itself sued Forest Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Celexa, citing that Forest had withheld the negative results of a Celexa study on adolescents, and illegally marketed the drug for use by children when the FDA had only approved it for use in adults. The company paid $313 million in settlements and pled guilty to several crimes, including paying kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the drugs.

Daniel’s mom Tricia, an ER nurse, obtained Daniel’s medical records shortly after his death. She emailed Ft. Hood personnel asking why federal employees were prescribing Celexa to children when the federal government was suing the drug’s manufacturer, but never got an answer.

The records manager at Darnall said they “use FDA guidance” when prescribing black box medications. But the antidepressants they prescribe have explicit warnings about the increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Apart from criminal negligence, what would explain a scenario where doctors prescribe Celexa to an 11-year-old child, combine it with more black-box meds, including Wellbutrin, Restoril, and Strattera, and then ignore the clear clinical worsening of Daniel’s symptoms, suicidality, and changes in behavior?

Tricia showed Daniel’s records to several lawyers, who all stated that his treatment was “clearly a case of malpractice, a failure to diagnose, and a failure to inform.”

“His providers killed him as sure as if they held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” Tricia said.

Issues of criminal liability and malpractice would have been addressed in court had Daniel’s father been a civilian. But since Daniel’s health care was provided by the United States Army, that wasn’t an option under Feres. That needs to change.

Recent efforts to overturn Feres include a congressional hearing and a federal suit being filed by the Whistleblower Law Firm. As we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, let’s ensure servicemembers and their families are no longer required to relinquish their rights in the name of freedom.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of Homefront 911 (2015). She’s testified before Congress several times and is the only military family member in U.S. history to return a Freedom Medal to the president.

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7 Responses for “End This Hidden Risk to Military Families”

  1. Dariana says:

    When we were dependents on an Army base back in the late 80s/early 90s, my mother went to the required base dentist for what should have been a routine filling. Instead the hack drilled too hard and far into the tooth, causing it to split into three pieces. Because the dentist didn’t notice the issue and stop drilling in time, one of the pieces was driven back into the gums and another went down her throat and into her sinus cavity (due to the angle her head was held at). The dentist then refused to call an ambulance because he didn’t want to alarm waiting patients. She had to drive herself to the base hospital to have both pieces surgically extracted. She later paid out-of-pocket for an off-base dentist to make sure no further damage was done.

    When she tried to make a complaint against the dentist, a JAG attorney came to our home where she was advised about Feres and told if she tried to pursue a claim against the dentist, her husband’s career could suffer for it, all dependent benefits could be lost, and they could even demand immediate repayment of enlistment bonuses and cost of base housing for the time they had been there. I don’t know if they could have actually followed through with any of those threats or if it was just an intimidation tactic.

  2. Mark says:

    I wonder how obama care would have handled this?

  3. Agkistrodon says:

    Those who wish for Single Payer, If you get that, you will be getting the very Same thing. Enjoy it.

  4. Veteran says:

    In 1978 my son died as a result of malpractice at Oak Knoll Navy hospital. My wife sued and won. I was an E-5 and went on to make E-8 and retire. Was never told we couldn’t sue.d

  5. Rick G says:

    @agkistrodon I have single payer coverage… Its called Medicare. All of my doctors are extremely qualified. They aren’t hired based upon the low bid… Therein lies the difference.

  6. Agkistrodon says:

    I have single payer too, called the VA, would you like some of that? There will be a BIG difference in the CURRENT Medicare, and Medicare for all. Trust me. If you doubt that come with me to the VA ONE time.

  7. Happening now says:

    In the 50ties 60ties, military care was almost dangerous for dependents. Family in grade school, high school, moved 15 times different in West coast, East. South, Middle States States, Teachers did not take kindly in those days of “military brats”, and as a wife of serviceman, medical care was not professional. I hope times have changed now. Have lots of stories. We were not allowed to see our medical charts ,and when transferred only forwarded to next duty station and most times lost.

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