One of the great perks of Active Duty service is free world-class medical care at military hospitals and on-base clinics. In fact, this perk extends to dependents (i.e., the spouse and children of an Active Duty “sponsor”) in many cases, as long as they are properly enrolled in an eligible TRICARE plan.

However, as with visits to civilian doctors and healthcare providers, sometimes mistakes are made at these military-run facilities. In the worst cases, those mistakes can have a detrimental impact on the patient’s health.

What happens if a military spouse or another dependent is the victim of medical malpractice at an on-base medical facility? Does the affected party have any recourse to take action?

The short answer is a resounding “yes!” Military spouses have the right to file medical malpractice claims against military healthcare providers or facilities. This point is sometimes confused because of the controversial Feres doctrine policy, however.

VIDEO: Can Active Duty Servicemembers File Medical Malpractice Claims Against Military Doctors?

How does the Feres Doctrine apply?

The Feres doctrine was born out of a Supreme Court decision made in 1950. That decision prohibited virtually all claims made by military servicemembers against the government for any injuries. However, dependents are NOT military servicemembers and thus the Feres rule does not apply.

The Congressional Research Service’s paper “Military Medical Malpractice and the Feres Doctrine” (dated June 16, 2021) clearly spells this out:

“Depending on the circumstances, non-servicemember victims of military medical malpractice (such as military retirees, spouses, and children of servicemembers) may sue the United States under the FTCA [Federal Tort Claims Act] notwithstanding Feres.”

As we can see, dependent spouses’ right to file medical malpractice claims against the military were never restricted. Their Active Duty partners’ right to file such claims were previously restricted. However, even that obstacle has been relatively diminished thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which opened the door for exceptions in some cases of medical malpractice by a DoD healthcare provider.

Related Reading: What is the Federal Tort Claims Act and How Does It Affect My Personal Injury Claim?

Filing Your Claim Within the Statute of Limitations

Military spouses who wish to file medical malpractice claims are still beholden to a statute of limitations. This is a legal term referring to “the maximum amount of time that parties involved in a dispute have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense.” In other words, it’s how long the affected military spouse has to file a claim. If you wait too long to file a claim and the statute of limitation passes, you will lose your legal right to file a claim for that injury.

Going back to the Congressional Research Service’s paper, the timeline to file a claim is “within two years of the date on which the claimant knows of the factual basis for his or her injury and its cause.” That two-year statute is the standard window for filing claims in most states, under most circumstances. The key word to pay attention to here is the word “knows.”

The date that a claimant “knows” of such a factual basis is a critical factor. Thus, the timeline to file may be impacted not just by when the spouse actually first learned of their injury, but when they reasonably “should have” known. If you are unsure how long you have to file a lawsuit, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim.

The Administrative Exhaustion Requirement

Clearly, navigating medical malpractice claims can get tricky fast. Filing a claim against the U.S. government tends to be even more complicated, even when you are legally allowed to file one. Indeed, it seems to have been intentionally set up to be complicated. A perfect example is the so-called “Administrative Exhaustion Requirement.”

28 U.S. Code Chapter 171 – Tort Claims Procedure outlines the complex administrative process for medical malpractice claims against the government. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, every administrative remedy has to be pursued to its fullest extent before a claim can be filed against a governmental agency, including the U.S. military.

An example of this requirement lies in 28 U.S. Code § 2675, which states:

“An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail.”

It is absolutely possible for a military spouse to file a medical malpractice claim for treatment received on-base. However, the path is obscured by overly complex requirements that are hard to decipher alone. That is where an experienced attorney comes into the picture. The rules and limits of the Federal Tort Claims Act can limit recovery if not followed properly.

The majority of personal injury firms offer free initial consultations, but it goes without saying you will want to narrow your search down to someone who has experience with military legal matters. Most firms do not have such finely tuned experience. They might easily overlook critical points which can make or break a personal injury claim involving military spouses, dependents, and military facilities/providers.

Get Gary Bruce If You Need Help with Your Military Spouse Medical Malpractice Claim

Our firm has been proudly serving military families stationed at Ft. Benning for many years, and we know our way around the complexities surrounding all types of injury claims involving military members, their spouses, and injuries on and off base. Dealing with the military is different than most other cases and the rules are different for how and when even the lawyers are compensated.

Contact our firm today for a free consultation and learn more about your options, and to see how we can help you get and keep the full compensation you are entitled to after an injury that wasn’t your fault.