Carmelo Rodriguez – When Marines Become UNCitizens: Misdiagnosis, Malpractice and Outrage

(May 20, 2008 – find an update to this post)

[Let me begin this post with a bit of a disclaimer. My husband is a retired veteran of the Air Force — 20+ years — before I knew him, but that doesn’t diminish my pride in the fact that he served our country. His son and our daughter in law are both career Air Force, too, and our other daughter-in-law just completed eight years in the Air Force. So yes, we are huge supporters of our American soldiers.]

The story I’m about to tell you holds several interests and outrages and raises some important questions:

1. Since when is a soldier not a citizen first?

2. How is it that an accurate diagnosis could turn into a MISdiagnosis 10 years later?

This story is told on CBS’s evening news — about a young soldier, Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez, who joined the Marines in 1997. During his induction physical, the doctor noted a mole and called it a melanoma on Carmelo’s records. But nothing was said to Carmelo, and the paperwork was filed. Carmelo went through training, has spent these ensuing years in the Marines, and was deployed to Iraq…

…. where last year, the mole began to get inflamed and filled with pus…. so the sargeant checked in with the military doctor. He was told it was a wart, and to “wait and see.”

Sargeant Carmelo Rodriguez died 18 months later, of melanoma.

Turns out, according to the military itself, that there are “several hundred” cases of misdiagnosis of medical problems for soldiers in Iraq each year. Others have died from misdiagnosis and medical mistakes, too.

And I SO UNDERSTAND THE OUTRAGE! Because I’ve been there — misdiagnosed and floundering. There are tens of thousands of us — but most of us aren’t soldiers…

So here is OUTRAGE #2: Because Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez was misdiagnosed by a military doctor, his family has no legal recourse. None Nada. A law passed in 1950, called the Feres Doctrine, removes that right for soldiers, even when injured by the actions of a military doctor.

But wait! There’s more!

Outrage #3: Because Carmelo was sent home to die — so he could be with his family — he was discharged from service. That means that he can have a military funeral — but his family has to pay for it.

This entire story is just wrong on so many levels. The original silence on the part of the induction doctor who didn’t speak up about Carmelo’s melanoma, the missed-diagnosis on the part of the doctor in Iraq, the fact that Carmelo died!, the fact that the family cannot find legal recourse to be compensated for his loss (to help raise his son), and the fact that the military would simply turn a blind eye toward paying for the funeral. And those facts are probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Questions for the two military doctors: Since when don’t you tell/warn someone about their medical condition? How could you have missed melanoma?

Questions for the Marines: Since when do our soldiers cease to be American citizens with the same rights the rest of us have to sue? And since when does the military send a soldier home to die — especially one who has seen combat — and not pay for the soldier’s funeral?

The lack of communication, misdiagnosis and death are bad enough. When compounded by the final insults of rights removal and not helping to bury the soldier — all Americans should be offended.

Want more tools and commentary for sharp patients?Sign up for Every Patient’s Advocate email tips
– – – – – – – – – – –
Join Trisha in the Patient Empowerment Forum at
– – – – – – – – – – –
Or link here to empower yourself at

12 thoughts on “Carmelo Rodriguez – When Marines Become UNCitizens: Misdiagnosis, Malpractice and Outrage”

  1. When I saw this story this morning on the news…I immediately started crying. I cannot believe the state Carmelo was in from the disease…he looked like a skeleton with skin. This is a severe human rights violation and I for one am so tired of the excuse of “well it’s the law”. History has shown that the “law” and “justice” and what is “right” are not always the same. And in a case like this, they are far from the same.
    This is why the rest of the world mocks our government, we preach human rights, justice, and democracy, but yet in cases like this – we do next to nothing to defend those ideals. We should concentrate on being a nation that leads by example, as our forefathers intended, not a nation that leads by force.
    Carmelo’s death is a tragedy beyond words and I hope that in death he eventually gets the justice he deserved in life.

  2. This was certainly an inexcusable thing. It should outrage all of us. The laws have got to be changed. It just broke my heart to learn of this injustice, and watch the report of this young man’s story.

  3. an old friend from ellenville

    i just got a myspace bulletin regarding Carmelo…i could not believe it! we were in high school together but i had not seen him since then and just as his family said he was such a great person! I knew that he was sick and that his sisters Ivy and Liz were taking care of him(Bless them both because they have had to face many hardships in their lives already) but i was so shocked to see the handsome Carmelo that i remember was suffering and dying! But the absolute worst part is that it didn’t have to be. What kind of nation do we live in that would allow this. I am saddened and ashamed….something has to be done. Carmelo cannot come back and his son must now live without his father. Someone needs to be held accountable!!!!!

  4. like “an old friend from ellenville” I also knew Carmelo from home and consider his sisters to be great friends…I knew of the story but seeing the news clip just floored me.. this was a great young man and he was doing what we are all supposed to hold in such high regard, especially in these times: serving our country.. as an Air Force wife, I also know that it is not unheard of for the doctors (and in some cases, PAs) to be dismissive when it comes to treatment.. it all comes down to one thing, MONEY!!!! and with what we are spending to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan daily, it is a shame that something like this is allowed to happen… what we can hope for now, in his memory, is that word of this tragedy and others like it will continue to gain exposure so that the American people have a clear picture of what is happening…

Comments are closed.

Trisha Torrey
Scroll to Top