A Marine Deserves Better | Take Justice Back

A Marine Deserves Better

Sergeant Carmelo R. was a member of the Marine Corps, a father with a seven-year-old son, and even a part-time actor who once appeared on screen with actress Katie Holmes.  

Carmelo served our country for almost a decade, including a deployment in Iraq.  During his initial physical a military physician spotted an abnormal spot on his buttocks.  The doctor made a note in the medical report that it was melanoma.  But that’s not what he told Carmelo.  It was only a wart, the doctor said. The doctor should have scheduled Rodriguez for at least a follow up appointment to seek additional treatment. But he never did that.

Carmelo was misdiagnosed time and again by several military doctors over the next eight years. Finally he returned home where a specialist diagnosed him with skin cancer.  

His diagnosis came too late, the disease had destroyed most of his body.  He lost almost 100 pounds before it was over and died while holding his young son’s hands.

It might seem obvious that the family of Sgt. Rodriguez should have a right to hold the medical providers accountable for their negligence.  But because he was an active service member, his family is banned from seeking justice on his behalf.  No accountability.

It’s called the Feres doctrine.  A 1950 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Feres v. United States prevents active duty military from seeking justice when they have been harmed due to medical negligence.  In practical terms it means that soldiers, sailors and marines – those who serve our country with great honor – do not have the same legal rights as ordinary citizens.

Congressman Maurice Hinchey found the case so appalling he introduced H.R. 1478 the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act of 2009.   The effort was unsuccessful and to this day, members of our armed services are effectively treated as second-class citizens when it comes to their legal rights.  

In Sgt. Rodriguez case, it appears no one will ever be held accountable for what doctors did to him.