The airmen in question is Colton Read, who served as an imagery analyst at Beale AFB, California. On 9 July 2009, he underwent "routine" surgery for the removal of his gall bladder at David Grant Medical Center at Travis AFB. While under the knife, an Air Force surgeon accidentally nicked Airman Read's aortic artery. After the mistake, clots formed and cut off blood flow to his legs. Read was finally transferred to a civilian hospital but it was too late; doctors had to amputate both legs, leaving him permanently disabled.
Since then, Airman Read has undergone more than a dozen additional surgeries to remove dead tissue from the remnants of his lower limbs, and remove the diseased gall bladder that sent him to the hospital in the first place. And, as you might expect, the operating room debacle ended Read's military career. Facing a medical retirement board that will end his military career, Read is now battling the bureaucracy over his benefits.
To help defray living expenses, Airman Read and his wife sought $100,000 from the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Traumatic Injury Program, claiming his situation was the result of injuries inflicted by military doctors. Governor Perry wrote a letter in support of his fellow Texan, asking the Air Force to approve Read's claim.
Predictably, the Air Force denied Airman Read's request, claiming the SGLI benefit does not cover injuries resulting from surgical complications or the treatment of illnesses. Read and his supporters contend that his injuries stemmed from medical mistakes--not the treatment of his gall bladder condition.
A spokeswoman for Perry said the governor is disappointed in the Air Force's decision. Perry served as a USAF C-130 pilot in the 1970s before entering politics.
Airman Read's situation is further complicated by federal laws that limit his ability to sue the doctors that almost killed him. As an Air Force member, Read cannot file a malpractice suit against military physicians, and his wife's potential recovery is capped at $250,000.
Sadly, Colton Read isn't the only armed forces member killed or maimed by incompetent physicians. During your humble correspondent's brief stint as an Air Force medic (30 years ago), I witnessed at least three examples of chronic malpractice (over a 12-month period), resulting in at least one death. As far as I know, none of the doctors involved were sanctioned for their actions.
Four decades later, it looks like some things haven't changed. To be fair, the vast majority of military physicians are skilled practitioners, saving the lives of badly wounded troops on a daily basis. But unfortunately, the armed services still attract their share of medical duds, doctors that (in some cases) have been unable to continue civilian careers because of malpractice issues. So, they continue their practice in the military, shielded by the Feres Doctrine.
At his blog, Airman Read encourages readers to contact their congressmen and ask them to end special legal protections for military physicians. It's a cause worth supporting. The great doctors in uniform have nothing to fear, and the termination of Feres would force middling performers to shape up--or face the consequences.
Colton Read--and the rest of our military--deserve nothing less. It's nice to see Governor Perry support one of his constituents. Too bad other politicians seem to be taking a pass.