Aug. 5 was a banner day. For the first time in my adult life I found myself agreeing with James J. Kilpatrick {"A Soldier's Botched Surgery," op-ed}. (Perhaps the same applies to Mr. Kilpatrick's agreeing with Rep. Barney Frank.) The "Feres doctrine" of 1950 -- prohibiting military personnel from bringing suit against the government for injuries sustained during duty -- is, in my opinion, the most oppressive and unfair of all the various "disabilities" suffered by those who serve our country. I am, however, somewhat cynical about the chances for survival of Rep. Frank's bill, which would let malpractice plaintiffs go to court. I also wonder whether the bill goes far enough.

Having served for eight years, 1974-1982, as an enlisted man in the Army, I saw both ends of the Army's medical spectrum. I had a marvelous plastic surgeon at Walter Reed who performed some excellent reconstructive surgery on a cleft lip/palate. But I also suffered from bronchial pneumonia five times while serving in Germany -- four times it went undiagnosed, with the curt suggestion that I was trying to avoid duty.

I would argue that the main problem is not necessarily incompetent doctors, but a shortage of competent physicians. The shortage is made up by warrant officers and physicians' assistants who often presume to practice medicine and prescribe drugs and treatment. Would Rep. Frank's bill address this problem?

It is understood -- or should be -- by all servicemen that one gives up certain civil rights when enlisting in the service. However, to be denied the right to recover damages resulting from incompetent, or unqualified, medical treatment is simply beyond decency.


Kents Store, Va.