A U.S. senator from West Virginia is vowing to get answers amid reports that at least nine deaths are being investigated as suspicious at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and after an additional death was ruled a homicide.
A story released Friday by WVNews reported that a lawyer for the family of a deceased patient had filed a complaint with the Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging that their relative died after being given an injection of insulin he did not need. The family also alleged that other patients had died under similar circumstances, and that workers at the hospital were aware of the suspicious deaths.
“This report is shocking and if accurate, I am appalled that these crimes were not only committed but that our Veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims. … I will do everything in my power to investigate these accusations and get to the bottom of what happened. These families and loved ones deserve answers as soon as possible and I will make sure they get them,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat and member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, in a news release Friday.
(MORE: VA watchdog report finds veterans are owed refunds for incorrect fees)
In a claim filed Aug. 21 with the Department of Veterans Affairs, lawyer Tony O’Dell, said that on April 9, 2018, retired Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, a patient at the Clarksburg medical center, died after being “injected with a fatal dose of insulin, either negligently or willfully, by an unidentified person.”
McDermott did not have diabetes, O’Dell said in the claim, and was being treated at the hospital for aspiration pneumonia. The claim also alleged that nine or 10 patients of the Louis A. Johnson Va Medical Center had died unexpectedly as a result of unexplained severe hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar.
“Each of these nine or ten patients had received a large and wrongful injection of insulin in the abdomen that was neither ordered by a doctor or medically necessary,” the claim reads.
(MORE: Veterans group calls for multi-agency investigation after 3 vets killed themselves at VA facilities in 5-day span)
McDermott’s death was ruled a homicide by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the claim said.
The claim also said that McDermott’s family had been told that VA investigators “have a person of interest in the deaths” of the VA patients, but that the person’s identity had not been revealed to the family.
Manchin said in a statement Monday that he’d spoken to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, as well as the medical center’s director, Dr. Glenn Snider, to “make sure that their investigation into these deaths is accurate and thorough.”
“I was also assured by both Secretary Wilkie and Dr. Snider that the person of interest is no longer in any contact with Veterans at the VA facility,” Manchin said, according to ABC affiliate WCHS-TV.
(MORE: Veterans Affairs whistleblowers call for end to culture of retaliation)
West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito called the news report “sickening and troubling” on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Manchin told WCHS-TV that around July 6, 2018, he and a delegation were informed that there was a concern that the medical center had taken care of and “secured.” Manchin said the center said the investigation was with the inspector general, and the delegation would be notified of its findings.
“Well, we never heard anything else,” he said. “We were basically contacted to say, ‘Soon as we found out about it, we took the proper actions. Person’s no longer in contact with any patients whatsoever.’ We did not know that there was a homicide that was connected with this activity way back when — a horrible tragedy — or how many others might have been affected until we just heard about it last week when it broke. … What we’re hearing about , there could be more victims. We don’t know for a fact.”
Manchin said he’d called Wilkie and Snider and they’re still waiting on the inspector general. He said his delegation was now pushing for the investigation to be completed.
VA Inspector General Michael Missal said that his office as well as federal law enforcement were also looking into the allegations, according to The Associated Press.
“Allegations of potential misconduct you may have heard about in media reports do not involve any current Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center employees,” the VA medical center’s spokesman, Wesley Walls, said in a statement.
“Immediately upon discovering these serious allegations, Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center leadership brought them to the attention of VA’s inspector general while putting safeguards in place to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients.
“The department informed the staffs of Senators Capito and Manchin and Rep. McKinley of these allegations August 7, 2018, and they are aware of the ongoing investigation. VA is cooperating fully with the inspector general’s ongoing investigation, and for additional questions we refer you to them,” Walls said.