CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Multiple families whose loved ones died under suspicious circumstances at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Clarksburg shared similar stories, according to a lawyer who has taken their cases.
“The picture is becoming more clear to us,” said Charleston lawyer Tony O’Dell. “The deaths all came from one floor. Every victim so far has been on 3A.
“They weren’t terminal and all of a sudden they took a turn for the worse, and their blood sugars show this dramatic decrease.”
And with their blood sugar crashing, O’Dell said on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” the veterans died.
“There’s clearly a pattern that goes with it,” O’Dell said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) September 4, 2019
Multiple officials have confirmed the FBI and the Office of Inspector General for the Veterans Administration are investigating the deaths.
O’Dell touched off questions about the mysterious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson Medical Center two weeks ago after filing a claim on behalf of the family of Vietnam veteran Felix McDermott.
Since then, O’Dell has spoken with five additional families of veterans who died suspiciously. The families are considering his legal representation.
In McDermott’s case, an autopsy concluded he died after receiving a fatal dose of insulin. He was not diabetic and did not have an insulin injection scheduled as part of his treatment. He was at the hospital after choking on food and developing aspiration pneumonia.
The autopsy of another victim, Air Force veteran George Shaw, showed four insulin injections, said David Glover, the lawyer for Shaw’s family. Shaw was being treated for dehydration symptoms.
“If you look at the Shaw case, he was injected four times,” O’Dell said. “I don’t know how you do that accidentally.”
More cases share similar circumstances, O’Dell said.
In one case, he said, the veteran’s body was cremated, leaving no way to perform an autopsy.
“I don’t believe it’s a dead end. I believe there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to link that case,” O’Dell said.
Another family just recently granted permission for an exhumation. An autopsy would be performed after that.
Yet another family was recently contacted by the Office of Inspector General for the first time, he said. That case was another shocking death.
“The gentleman had fallen and had gone several hours without food and water, so he was disoriented. He went into the hospital and once they started hydrating him and getting some food in him he quickly snapped back. They thought he would be sent to a rehab facility where he could gain strength over a couple more days,” O’Dell said.
“The family got a call, and all of a sudden he was on his death bed. He died the same day.”
Still another family just approached him. He knows few of the circumstances but says the Office of Inspector General called the family.
“I know the death was very late. July ’18, which probably means it’s the last one,” he said.
O’Dell spoke with another family who had not been contacted by the Office of Inspector General. But the family conveyed a disconcerting story.
“Family members were there and a nurse comes in with a shot and the gentleman asks what it was. The nurse said insulin. He said ‘You can’t give that to me because I take diabetes medicine orally. If you give me that it will kill me,'” O’Dell recounted.
“She left and then the next day they get word that he took a sudden turn for the worse and died. They have always wondered whether someone ended up giving him a shot of insulin.”
The Veterans Administration has, generally, described safety precautions for families.
An initial statement from the VA said, “Allegations of potential misconduct you may have heard about in media reports do not involve any current Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center employees.”
O’Dell praised the investigation efforts by federal prosecutors, the FBI and the Office of Inspector General, a watchdog arm of the VA.
“Without the OIG, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney, none of these families would know a thing,” O’Dell said. “The VA itself has never contacted any of these families, that I’m aware of, to give them information.”
In an interview this week with The Washington Times, Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilkie pressed for the investigation to come to a conclusion. ”
“This has been going on too long,” he said. “We owe that to the people who have suffered to get this thing done.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, described the scenario at the VA as horrible. He said he is frustrated by a lack of answers.
“They have a person of interest,” Manchin said. “I said, ‘It shouldn’t take that long to find the evidence. It’s been over a year now.”
Manchin said a particularly troubling aspect is that the autopsy for McDermott concluded last February that his death was a homicide.
“We had to find out from the press,” Manchin said.