The Navy has denied the medical malpractice claim filed by the family of a junior sailor who killed himself in a military jail.

The parents of Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Macoy Hicks, 20, filed the claim in January, alleging that their son received subpar mental healthcare from the Navy, and that Army jailers failed to properly care for him when they issued him a belt he used to take his life while confined for 25 days at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in February 2019.

Such a claim was made possible via a law change in recent years allowing troops and surviving family members to file tort claims for medical negligence against the services.

For decades, service members have had limited options for redressing such wrongs due to the Feres doctrine, a legal stricture that banned military members from suing the government.

But while advocates have welcomed the law change, part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, some have expressed concern about a lack of transparency from the services and the Pentagon regarding how such claims are decided.

The Navy’s initial determination letter for the Hicks claim, dated Sept. 20, argues that the law does not apply to the claim because “the allegedly negligent care did not occur in a covered military treatment facility.”

“Rather, it occurred onboard a Department of the Navy ship (USS Nimitz) and a Department of the Army brig,” the letter states. “Therefore, your client’s claim is denied.”

The letter states that the claimants can file an appeal to the Defense Health Agency Appeals Board.

Darrin Bailey, one of two private attorneys representing Hicks’s parents in the claim, told Navy Times they plan to appeal.

“This kind of self-protective response is exactly what we can expect with the new law, with the (U.S. Defense Department) making its own rules, applying its own definitions and determining claims behind a curtain without transparency,” Bailey said in an email.

Navy officials did not respond to questions about the claim by Navy Times’s deadline Monday.

Pentagon officials did not respond to questions earlier this month regarding whether formal guidance had been released to the services for deciding such claims.

Some information about the process was posted online this summer, but critics questioned a lack of specifics.

Hundreds of claims seeking roughly $3.2 billion in compensation had been filed with the services as of this spring.

The Hicks family claim alleges that the sailor’s mental health problems were pushed aside by the Navy, and that the Army jail at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, also was medically negligent when they issued the troubled sailor a riggers belt.

Their claim seeks between $4.9 and $6.4 million.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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