CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says he is asking the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Justice to provide answers about a string of suspicious deaths at the VA medical center in Clarksburg.
Manchin, this afternoon, said he spoke with Attorney General William Barr. Manchin has already received assurances that the DOJ will provide every resource during the investigation, according to a statement from Manchin’s office.
Manchin expressed frustration that so few specifics have been available so far to the public, even though the suspicious deaths occurred a year ago.
As families have spoken up this week, Manchin said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” others have rightfully wondered what’s going on.
“We’ve got people now afraid to have an operation, which they’ve had scheduled for quite some time,” he said. “We’ve got to get answers as quickly as possible.”
The search for answers about what’s been going on at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center became urgent after the revelation of about 10 unexplained deaths.
The family of retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott has filed a claim with the VA after an autopsy revealed he was injected last year with a fatal dose of insulin. McDermott, who was being treated after choking on food, was not diabetic and was not scheduled for an insulin injection.
The claim describes nine or 10 unexplained deaths at the VA medical center, each with similar circumstances.
Since that was revealed, USA Today reported on a second family that has come forward to file a claim in the death of Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr.
Shaw died a day after McDermott.
Manchin said his office was informed last year that patients at the center had been diagnosed with low blood sugar. Manchin signed a letter expressing serious concerns.
But, he said today, “never, ever, ever was there ever concern about a homicide, anybody dying.”
At the time, Manchin sent a letter to the Veterans Administration, expressing concern.
“Then we find out about homicide, not just one but possibly multiples,” Manchin said. “We never knew this.”
This week, after learning the situation was much more serious, Manchin sent another letter to the Inspector General for the Veterans Administration, asking for as much information to be shared as possible.
“I said, ‘This is just absolutely unacceptable. One year and we’ve heard nothing?'” Manchin said. The families need to know. They need closure on this.'”
He added, “We’ve got to get answers as quickly as possible.”
MetroNews sent a query to the Inspector General on Thursday afternoon, asking for any possible update.
The office referred to a statement that was issued earlier this week: “At this time the OIG is not making further comments outside the IG’s statement.”
Here’s the full statement from the Inspector General:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been working with our federal law enforcement partners to investigate the allegations of potential wrongdoing resulting in patient deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
At this time, we cannot comment further on those activities. As is always the case, the VA OIG works with the Department to identify and urgently address allegations related to patient safety. The care and safety of our veterans and their families remain our top priority.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, during an interview on Fox’s “Outnumbered Overtime,” also expressed frustration in the lack of information available to the public.
“The biggest thing that we can do — and I agree with Sen. [Joe] Manchin… this inspector general has to get us the answers,” he said. “It looks to me like they’ve been the victims of a crime, but we haven’t received those conclusions from the criminal authorities.”
Wilkie said even the VA has been out of the loop during the investigation.
“We are learning what we know from the media,” he said. “It is time for the inspector general, who is not controlled by me or the White House, to finally end this investigation to answer the questions that our grieving families have. It’s been far too long
The community surrounding the Veterans Administration is anxious to know more, said Harrison County Commissioner David Hinkle.
“I think like everyone else the community wants to know how this could happen over there and how come it took so long for the information to get out to the community — and what the VA is doing to make sure the patients over there aren’t exposed to this again,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle expressed dismay that the situation has existed so long without clear information to those who use the VA’s services. He said he learned some of the deaths were ruled homicides just in the past week.
Like others, Hinkle wondered about the status of a person of interest who has been described.
“It does make you wonder, I won’t deny that, whether they’re still there or whether they’ve left,” Hinkle said. “They’ve left it out there to determine what that meaning is.”
Hinkle would like more answers soon.
“I just hope that we can find out exactly what happened,” he said, “and the sooner the better so that patients don’t have to worry if they go over there.”