On the morning of April 9, 2018, Felix McDermott died at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. The retired Army Sergeant and Vietnam Veteran was 82 years old and had several health issues, including aspiration pneumonia.
However, his condition was improving, and his death shocked his family.
“No answers were given to the family at all,” said attorney Tony O’Dell, who represents McDermott’s relatives. “They really were left in the dark. He (McDermott) took a sudden turn. They didn’t know what to think. They were surprised.”
Another shock came later when the Veterans Administration contacted McDermott’s family for permission to exhume his body to conduct an autopsy after reports of other suspicious deaths at the Clarksburg VA.
The autopsy revealed the most stunning news of all; McDermott, who was not diabetic, had been given an insulin injection in the abdomen the morning of his death. He died of severe hypoglycemia. Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Paul Uribe concluded, “Based on the investigative and autopsy findings, the manner of death is a homicide.”
O’Dell said the family wants answers. “We don’t know whether this is just an unbelievably incompetent person, which is hard to believe, or if someone is doing this willfully to people who have served our country,” O’Dell told me on Talkline Monday.
McDermott may not have been the only victim. O’Dell claims in his filing that prior to April, 2018, nine or ten patients at the Clarksburg VA “had died unexpectedly as a result of unexplained severe hypoglycemia” due to wrongful injections of insulin.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said on Talkline Monday that he has spoken with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and Clarksburg VA Medical Center Director Dr. Glenn Snider to try to find out what happened.
Manchin said the investigation by the VA’s Office of Inspector General has focused on an individual, who has not been identified. Manchin said he was assured by both Wilkie and Snyder that “the person of interest is no longer in any contact with veterans at the VA facility.” There’s no word of any criminal charges against anyone yet.
The investigation has gone on for months, and Manchin said despite his position on the Veterans’ committee, he didn’t find out about it until the story was first reported in the Clarksburg Exponent newspaper last week.
“It’s very upsetting that it has taken this long for us to have gotten any kind of news,” he said.
Wesley Walls, a spokesman for the hospital, said in a prepared statement that the hospital responded promptly when the allegations were discovered and put safeguards in place “to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients.”
Walls added that the hospital is cooperating with the investigation and the allegations of misconduct “do not involve any current Louis A. Johnson Medical Center employees.”
Assurances that an unidentified “person of interest” no longer has access to patients at the Clarksburg VA is the bare minimum of information that patients, families and the public are entitled to. The fact that an autopsy, which was completed six months ago, determined McDermott was the victim of a homicide is alarming, and it is horrific to think there may have been nine or ten additional victims.
VA investigators have already acknowledged to McDermott’s daughter, Melanie Proctor, that her father was the last known victim of these suspicious deaths as a result of wrongful insulin injections. There’s been plenty of time for an investigation. A full accounting of exactly what happened to those veterans is long overdue.