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CBS News: Marine Survives Battle, Dies of Misdiagnosis?

Tonight (Jan 31, 2008) the CBS evening news will be airing a segment about a tragic case of a young Marine who died of melanoma. According to the news transcript, an unusual mole was diagnosed as a melanoma in 1997, but no follow up was scheduled, and no explanation given to the young man about his diagnosis or treatment plan. Eight years later in Iraq he complained to medical personnel of the mole growing larger and he was told it was a wart which would be treated once he returned to US soil. He slipped through the cracks somehow, and tragically died in 2008 of stage IV melanoma.

One interesting issue raised in the segment is that the Marine was not eligible to to sue for negligence in his case.  There is a law, the Feres Doctrine, that denies military personnel the right to sue the government in cases of perceived or real medical malpractice. The rule was established in 1950 after a case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court (Feres v. United States) in which servicemen who picked up highly radioactive weapons fragments from a crashed airplane were not permitted to recover damages from the government.

While I do understand (in theory) the purpose of this law – if every battle injury allowed soldiers to sue the government, we’d bankrupt our country in the span of a year – it does seem to be over-reaching in this case. The Marine was not injured in battle, but his life was indeed compromised by sloppy medical follow up. In my opinion, the doctor who correctly diagnosed him in 1997 should be held accountable for lack of follow up (if that’s indeed what happened). As for the military personnel who thought the Marine’s advanced melanoma was a wart, that is a tragic misdiagnosis, but hard to say that there was malpractice at play. With limited access to diagnostic pathology services, it is difficult (in the field) to be sure of the diagnosis of a skin lesion. And yes, I can imagine that an advanced melanoma could look wart-like. This is a tragic shame, but since the young man had the melanoma for 8 years prior to the misdiagnosis of the “wart,” in the end I doubt that a correct diagnosis at that point would have changed his terminal outcome.

But I wonder if the Feres Doctrine should be modified to allow for more accountability amongst military physicians in caring for diseases and conditions unrelated to military service? Although I am not pro-lawsuit, it does seem unfair that this Marine was denied the opportunity to pursue justice in his case. What do you think? Check out the segment with Katie Couric tonight and let’s discuss.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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4 Responses to “CBS News: Marine Survives Battle, Dies of Misdiagnosis?”

  1. Salma9500 says:

    First of all I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the family.  I  was stopped in my tracks watching , as I saw a Vibrant  Young Warrior, and then I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It brought me to tears recently  loosing a family member to cancer that had all the finest tech/medical advances. I can’t imagine a Brave Soldier fighting (let’s not forget an unpopular war-without being asked to) defending this Country, Honorably- without even being notified of his condition, let alone the choice to seek treatment.  I believe the doctor that neglected to disclose this information to this Marine should get a quick course in weapons training. Then sent to the “Front Line”, no amount of compensation will heal the pain, or replace this precious life lost.  But, the learning process for dr. no? with be Priceless!  Didn’t feel like telling the truth?-lazy, Hid the report after he was sworn in?-dirty, Bullets wizzing by your head in a fox hole with 1 week of weapons training?- Priceless!  There just is no excuse for this travesty.   My  Prayers are with the family , and Carmelo. God Bless…

  2. Anonymous says:

    It was indeed a tragic story. A melanoma was diagnosed, yet a failure to communicate or act on the diagnosis occurred.

    The point now is to make terrible events like this never happen again or only very rarely.

    Blaming and suing for malpractice WILL NOT FIX THE PROBLEM. Never has. Never will.

    Has it fixed the general public’s medical system?

    Systems need to be in place to prevent these kinds events. Don’t look for litigation to solve the problem.

  3. hstormb says:

    The rationale for the Feres doctrine is that aggrieved members of the military or naval services are fully covered against medical misadventures while on active duty. Corrective treatment and lifetime pension and medical care are provided.for aggrieved personnel.

    Dependents are under no such strictures and may sue the individual doctor, but can include the deep pockets of the USA.
    I did not and will not watch Katie Couric ooze professional sympathy when she gets her hands on a story involving apparent malfeasance by authority. The real story is frequently unknown and one to suit her agenda will be substituted.
    The way medicine is practised today is organized malpractise: 12 minutes for a complete physical. not enough time for empathy to develop except in physicians endowed with old-fashioned healer genes.
  4. skibjork says:

    This is a tragic story and as much as it hurts to say it, because it is someone’s life, accidents do happen. In no way am I condoning the physician’s actions and I hope that he/she gets reprimanded justly for brushing the melanoma off as a wart.

    But this isn’t anything new. There are many physicians or healthcare providers that misdiagnose, not that they aren’t smart enough to do an accurate diagnosis, but they might not know which tools are accessible in their diagnostic arsenal. I read a scary article recently about many physicians that feel comfortable ordering lab tests (some expensive and not necessary) without being able to interpret them. There is a great physician tool created online called ARUP Consult that provides physicians concise diagnostic advice, algorithms, test suggestions, etc… at the point of care to help eliminate misdiagnoses and these tragedys and accidents.

    Val, I would hope that you could post the link along with your other health links to help educate not only public, but physicians as well, as many have found it very useful.

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