When someone thanks me for my service, I normally reply with “Just doing my job.” Because, honestly, most of my non-deployed days are just like everyone else’s days. I wake up, workout, and head to work, where most of my work is done on a computer. Then I head home, fighting the same traffic everyone else does.
One thing that is different is medical care. I use a military hospital, as does my family. Most of the time, the care is similar to what is out in town. I’ve had PRK surgery on my eyes and had zero issues afterwards. My wife has delivered 2 babies at military hospitals without issue. In fact, the last kid was by far the best delivery experience we had.
But it’s not always roses. Military doctors can be negligent, in some cases killing patients. We’re not talking about battlefield medicine, but rather routine operations far from the war zone. Unlike civilian doctors, who can be sued for negligence, military members are barred from suing, no matter how bad the circumstance. Miss a cancer diagnosis? Recommend unnecessary surgery? Too bad for you.
My wife personally experienced this. She has terrible varicose veins. Like, they are truly awful and just hurt in an incapacitating sort of way. The normal surgery to fix this is called a VNUS closure. It’s the surgery you probably see advertised on TV. After baby #3, we scheduled a VNUS closure surgery with a military doctor at the Army base we lived on. Since it’s routine, I went to work and my wife dropped off the kids with a babysitter. She had the surgery on one leg, but it was painful, so she went back the next day to follow up. My phone rang 30 minutes later, and I answered it to hear my wife sobbing on the other end. The doctor had damaged the nerve endings in the leg he had operated on with the device used to close the vein. Instead of figuring out how to fix it, he instead berated my wife and accused her of making up the pain.
I quickly called our small Navy medical team, who rushed over to make sure she was OK and get help her get home. Then I filed an Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) complaint to document the problem. I followed up with our medical care representative, a warrant officer that had no problem pushing the issue in front of Navy and hospital leadership. I did everything to document and pursue the problem that leadership told me to.
And…nothing happened. No investigation into what went wrong. No counseling the doctor. Heck, we couldn’t even get the surgery done by another doctor, so to this day my wife is living with painful legs. All because one crappy Army doctor made mistakes and blamed them on my wife.
Stories like this happen all the time, and while it’s not as dramatic or bad as soldiers with improperly diagnosed cancer treatment, it is the normal day-to-day military families deal with. We get no recourse. We get no justice when someone screws up. If anything, we get blamed.
Congress might finally get around to giving military families the same rights they get when it comes to medical care. Please call your Congressional representative and let that person know that military families shouldn’t have to live in pain.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Department of the Army, or any other government agency.