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A former Marine with terminal cancer is spending his last year fighting to get veterans the right to sue for malpractice

When you know your time on earth is very limited, finding things to smile about can be difficult.

“It's finally starting to sink in, so I'm feeling pretty good that a lot more smiles coming my way,” said Sgt. Richard Stayskal.

Stayskal is a former Marine sniper and Green Beret who has stage IV terminal cancer. As upsetting as that is, what really bothered Stayskal and his entire family is that it was grossly misdiagnosed. Doctors at a VA medical center Stayskal went to, repeatedly, with major health issues sent him home, telling him it was nothing more pneumonia, even though they noted he had a mass on his lung.

Stayskal wanted to sue for malpractice so that his wife and two young girls might be taken care of, once he’s gone. But a relatively unknown effect of a 1950 Supreme Court decision, known as “The Feres Doctrine,” prevents active-duty military from suing.

So, Stayskal has spent much of the last year on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., lobbying members of Congress to change that. They haven’t, yet, but Stayskal did win a big victory when the military appropriations bill passed, recently, and included $400 million to both investigate and – if proven legitimate – compensate cases of medical malpractice for members of the military.

“I can't underscore enough how remarkable this achievement is,” he says. “It’s a huge relief to know there's better accountability that service members are getting what they deserve.”

One of the members of Congress who helped make it happen was North Carolina’s 8th district representative, Richard Hudson, who told Stayskal, “You touched my heart when I first met you and I knew this was a fight worth fighting.”

Although Stayskal is still diagnosed as terminal, he feels this was a battle he is most proud of winning.

“Sometimes something good comes out of something terrible and this is one of those things,” he says.

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