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Callum D. Dewar, Jason H. Boulter, Brian P. Curry, Dana M. Bowers, and Randy S. Bell

Medical malpractice suits within the military have historically been limited by the Feres Doctrine, a legal precedent arising from a Supreme Court decision in 1950, which stated that active-duty personnel cannot bring suit for malpractice against either the United States government or military healthcare providers. This precedent has increasingly become a focus of discussion and reform as multiple cases claiming malpractice have been dismissed. Recently, however, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 initiated the first change to this precedent by creating an administrative body with the sole purpose of evaluating and settling claims of medical malpractice within the military’s $50 billion healthcare system. This article seeks to present the legal history related to military malpractice and the Feres Doctrine as well as discuss the potential future implications that may arise as the Feres Doctrine is modified for the first time in 70 years.

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Nicholas S. Szuflita, Tiffany N. Phan, Jason H. Boulter, Robert F. Keating, and John S. Myseros

OBJECTIVE

The authors aimed to describe the natural history and optimal management of persistent syringomyelia after suboccipital craniectomy for Chiari malformation type I (CM-I).

METHODS

A cohort of all patients who presented to a tertiary pediatric hospital with newly diagnosed CM-I between 2009 and 2017 was identified. Patients with persistent or worsened syringomyelia were identified on the basis of a retrospective review of medical records and imaging studies. The management of these patients and their clinical courses were then described.

RESULTS

A total of 153 children with CM-I and syringomyelia were evaluated between 2009 and 2017. Of these, 115 (68.8%) patients underwent surgical intervention: 40 patients underwent posterior fossa decompression (PFD) alone, 43 underwent PFD with duraplasty, and 32 underwent PFD with duraplasty and fourth ventricle stent placement. Eleven (7.19%) patients had increased syringomyelia on subsequent postoperative imaging. Three of these patients underwent revision surgery because of worsening scoliosis or pain, 2 of whom were lost to follow-up, and 4 were managed nonoperatively with close surveillance and serial MRI evaluations. The syringes decreased in size in 3 patients and resolved completely in 1 patient.

CONCLUSIONS

Persistent or worsened syringomyelia after CM-I decompression is uncommon. In the absence of symptoms, nonoperative management with close observation is safe for patients with persistent syrinx.

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Charles A. Miller, Jason H. Boulter, Daniel J. Coughlin, Michael K. Rosner, Chris J. Neal, and Michael S. Dirks

OBJECTIVE

Symptomatic cervical spondylosis with or without radiculopathy can ground an active-duty military pilot if left untreated. Surgically treated cervical spondylosis may be a waiverable condition and allow return to flying status, but a waiver is based on expert opinion and not on recent published data. Previous studies on rates of return to active duty status following anterior cervical spine surgery have not differentiated these rates among military specialty occupations. No studies to date have documented the successful return of US military active-duty pilots who have undergone anterior cervical spine surgery with cervical fusion, disc replacement, or a combination of the two. The aim of this study was to identify the rate of return to an active duty flight status among US military pilots who had undergone anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) or total disc replacement (TDR) for symptomatic cervical spondylosis.

METHODS

The authors performed a single-center retrospective review of all active duty pilots who had undergone either ACDF or TDR at a military hospital between January 2010 and June 2017. Descriptive statistics were calculated for both groups to evaluate demographics with specific attention to preoperative flight stats, days to recommended clearance by neurosurgery, and days to return to active duty flight status.

RESULTS

Authors identified a total of 812 cases of anterior cervical surgery performed between January 1, 2010, and June 1, 2017, among active duty, reserves, dependents, and Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs patients. There were 581 ACDFs and 231 TDRs. After screening for military occupation and active duty status, there were a total of 22 active duty pilots, among whom were 4 ACDFs, 17 TDRs, and 2 hybrid constructs. One patient required a second surgery. Six (27.3%) of the 22 pilots were nearing the end of their career and electively retired within a year of surgery. Of the remaining 16 pilots, 11 (68.8%) returned to active duty flying status. The average time to be released by the neurosurgeon was 128 days, and the time to return to flying was 287 days. The average follow-up period was 12.3 months.

CONCLUSIONS

Adhering to military service-specific waiver guidelines, military pilots may return to active duty flight status after undergoing ACDF or TDR for symptomatic cervical spondylosis.

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M. Benjamin Larkin, Erin K. M. Graves, Jason H. Boulter, Nicholas S. Szuflita, R. Michael Meyer, Michael E. Porambo, John J. Delaney, and Randy S. Bell

OBJECTIVE

There are limited data concerning the long-term functional outcomes of patients with penetrating brain injury. Reports from civilian cohorts are small because of the high reported mortality rates (as high as 90%). Data from military populations suggest a better prognosis for penetrating brain injury, but previous reports are hampered by analyses that exclude the point of injury. The purpose of this study was to provide a description of the long-term functional outcomes of those who sustain a combat-related penetrating brain injury (from the initial point of injury to 24 months afterward).

METHODS

This study is a retrospective review of cases of penetrating brain injury in patients who presented to the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, from January 2010 to March 2013. The primary outcome of interest was Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS) score at 6, 12, and 24 months from date of injury.

RESULTS

A total of 908 cases required neurosurgical consultation during the study period, and 80 of these cases involved US service members with penetrating brain injury. The mean admission Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score was 8.5 (SD 5.56), and the mean admission Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 26.6 (SD 10.2). The GOS score for the cohort trended toward improvement at each time point (3.6 at 6 months, 3.96 at 24 months, p > 0.05). In subgroup analysis, admission GCS score ≤ 5, gunshot wound as the injury mechanism, admission ISS ≥ 26, and brain herniation on admission CT head were all associated with worse GOS scores at all time points. Excluding those who died, functional improvement occurred regardless of admission GCS score (p < 0.05). The overall mortality rate for the cohort was 21%.

CONCLUSIONS

Good functional outcomes were achieved in this population of severe penetrating brain injury in those who survived their initial resuscitation. The mortality rate was lower than observed in civilian cohorts.