The U.S. Supreme Court has left it up to Congress to decide if service members may pursue in the civil justice system claims that they have suffered harms while seeking medical services, a fundamental civil right now denied to military personnel.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who rarely agree on much — both wanted but were unsuccessful in getting their high court colleagues to revisit an inequitable, 69-year-old Supreme Court ruling involving the Federal Tort Claims Act. That act governs who can bring a claim for negligence at a military or other government health care facility.
Active duty military personnel cannot bring a medical negligence claim for care at a military facility. This is called the “Feres doctrine,” after the Supreme Court decision, Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135 (1950). Under the Feres doctrine, members of the United States armed forces are barred from making a claim against the United States for personal injury or death arising “incident to service.” Military medical treatment received by a service member, while on active duty, has been held by the courts to be “incident to service,” and, thus not actionable, even if that treatment was for a purely elective procedure, and even if the procedure was performed negligently.