The mission statement of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs quotes President Abraham Lincoln: “To care of him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.
Contrast that with what we are learning about the horrific events at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Hospital in Clarksburg.
Through reporting and the cooperation of victims’ families, we now have confirmation that two veterans who died at the hospital were murdered, put to death by someone who injected them with lethal doses of insulin. Neither was diabetic.
The Clarksburg Exponent newspaper was the first to report on the homicide of retired Army Sergeant Felix McDermott. That was followed by a USA Today report of Air Force veteran George Shaw, Sr.’s death. Military autopsy reports show the deaths of both men in April 2018 were homicides.
Those deaths are shocking enough, but investigators have told family members that the deaths of ten patients at the hospital are suspicious.
The hospital and the Veterans Administration’s response has been to stonewall. A hospital spokesman issued a brief statement which stood out for its defensive tone.
“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,” said spokesman Wesley Walls.
The statement went on to refer additional questions to the Office of the Inspector General within the Veterans Administration. That office answers press inquiries with the standard defense that it cannot talk about an ongoing investigation.
There are a couple of fundamental problems here.
First, confidence in the hospital has been shaken to the core by these revelations and the best the facility can do to reassure former, current and future patients and their families is to say that no current employee is involved.
Well, who was involved? What action, if any, was taken against that person? What are the new safeguards? Do “new safeguards” mean that previously the checks and balances were so lax that someone could murder patients?
Second, why has the investigation taken so long? These suspicious deaths have been known about for well over a year. The autopsy report for McDermott was completed last February.
This country demands much from its soldiers, including the possibility that he or she will have to make the ultimate sacrifice. In return, the country honors them and pledges to care for them. For at least two veterans, and possibly as many as ten, that sacred promise has been violated.