CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The USA Today reported Wednesday night there’s been a second confirmed death by homicide of a patient receiving treatment at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
The national newspaper interviewed the family of George Nelson Shaw, Sr., a native West Virginian and Air Force veteran, who died at the hospital in April 2018, a day after retired U.S. Army Sgt. Felix McDermott.
The family said the VA’s Inspector General’s requested Shaw’s body be exhumed. An autopsy later showed he died by insulin injection just like McDermott.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito said the Office of the Inspector General has not properly handled the investigation into the suspicious deaths.
“Not in a criminal situation (they haven’t)–this is not overbilling here,” Capitol said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “This is something exceedingly deadly and of very, very high level importance. Time should have been of the essence.”
News of the deaths first surfaced last week when McDermott’s daughter filed a claim to sue the VA for her father’s 2018 death while a patient at the Clarksburg hospital. An autopsy confirmed he died after being injected with insulin. He was not a diabetic. The death was ruled a homicide.
McDermott’s family was told by VA investigators that nine or 10 additional patients of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center had been given fatal injections of insulin, according to the claim.
“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,” said Tony O’Dell, a Charleston lawyer who is representing McDermott’s family, earlier this week on “Talkline.”
Capito said Wednesday she believes the Clarksburg VA handled the situation properly once finding out about the death, removing the person being looked at from patients, but she questions the Office of Inspector General’s pace and release of information.
“Especially once it was confirmed that Sgt. McDermott had actually been killed by lethal injection. Why then did this not become public? I don’t know. These are the questions we are asking right now,” Capito said.
Capito said she doesn’t know if person in question is still with the VA. She said the agency has had problems firing people over the years. The delay of action is shameful, Capito said.
“Why has it taken so long to bring charges against whomever this person is?”
She said she’s had a long conversation with Department of Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.
“I told him the VA has had issue after issue of incompetence and questionable reaction to dire situations,” Capito said. “The secretary is trying to move this as quickly as he can but it hasn’t been satisfactory. I’m sure we’ll have a (congressional) hearing on this as soon as we go back.”
Congress is in recess until after Labor Day.
Capito did confirm Wednesday that her office did receive email correspondence from the VA in July 2018 about the suspicious deaths.
“It was an email sent from the Inspector General. It came to a case worker who sent it to Washington. We then followed up with the Clarksburg VA and were told they would keep us informed. We didn’t receive any more information,” Capito said. “We re-asked with no further information. That’s a disappointment.”
The Clarksburg VA released the following statement earlier this week:
“Allegations of potential misconduct you may have heard about in media reports do not involve any current Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center employees. 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.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced on Wednesday he has spoken to Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal and sent a letter to Missal and Wilkie about the investigations, urging speed with the work.
“Last July, my office was originally notified of an open VA Inspector General (IG) investigation after multiple unexplained episodes of hypoglycemia at the VAMC in Clarksburg, but I never received notification of a homicide at that time,” he said.
“I immediately reached out to then-Acting Secretary of the VA, Peter O’Rourke, to express my serious concerns about these incidents and make clear my expectations that VA leadership at every level should cooperate fully with the IG investigation. My office repeatedly followed-up with the IG to request updates, but we were told that because of the ongoing IG investigation, specific details or updates could not be provided. Until this past weekend, I had been awaiting the results of the IG investigation before making any public comments on the matter.”
Manchin added Congress can provide additional resources or authority in order to complete the investigation in a timely manner.