So far, MetroNews and other media have confirmed the names of five veterans who died under suspicious circumstances at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg. They are Archie Edgell, John Hallman, William Holloway, Felix McDermott and George Shaw.
Monday, we reported on a sixth individual, a 92-year-old Navy veteran from West Virginia. His family has requested that his name not be released at this point.
It’s believed there are ten or more veterans whose deaths at the hospital are being investigated by the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General at the Veteran’s Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the sixth individual are remarkably like the others, according to attorney Tony O’Dell, who is representing the family of the victim and a number of the other families whose loved ones died at the VA.
The veteran was admitted to the VA’s ICU unit June 15, 2018, with shortness of breath and lethargy. After a couple of days of treatment, he became fully alert and blood tests showed significant improvement in combating an infection.
He was transferred to unit 3A—the same unit where the other patients who died were housed—the evening of the 17th. Early the next morning he was found unresponsive. His blood sugar level had dropped to 14, a dangerously low level.
The individual was not diabetic, and his blood sugar levels had previously been normal. The low blood sugar and lack of oxygen triggered a heart attack. He died several days later.
O’Dell said federal authorities have confirmed that the man is one of the ten suspicious VA deaths under investigation. The body was exhumed, but unfortunately it had decomposed too much for an autopsy. The other deaths have been attributed to unprescribed insulin injections which caused a dramatic drop in blood sugar levels.
Meanwhile, the investigation is ongoing, and no charges have been brought yet against a “person of interest,” an overnight nurse in Unit 3A, who no longer works at the hospital. After our story this week, Wesley Walls, the hospital’s chief of public affairs and community relations, released a statement.
“Our hearts go out to the families affected by these tragic deaths,” the statement reads in part. “The fact that VA fired the individual at the center of these allegations offers a small measure of accountability, but it is now incumbent on VA’s independent inspector general, which has been investigating this issue for more than a year, to deliver justice.”
Meanwhile, the VA’s Executive of Veteran’s Health Administration, Dr. Richard Stone, wrote an op-ed, encouraging veterans to trust the care offered at the Clarksburg hospital.
“Our dedicated employees at the Clarksburg VA Medical Center bring their own skills and passion to their jobs,” he wrote. “They are dedicated to the mission of helping you, the thousands of Clarksburg-area veterans who served our nation honorably.”
Okay, I get that it is important to re-establish credibility at the hospital. However, Stone goes on to accuse the media of sowing mistrust.
“If headlines to the contrary only disparaged VA and its staff, we might ignore them. But we know they do more harm than that—they discourage veterans from seeking care at the department, which could make veterans’ service-related injuries and ailments worse.”
So, media coverage of the scandal might make veterans sicker?
In fact, the suspicious deaths, which were all very similar, took place for nearly a year before the VA reported the problem. Even then, it wasn’t until several family members came forward that the public learned about the deaths.
Eventually, there will be a full report from investigators. Hopefully, the person responsible for the macabre murders of West Virginia veterans will be held accountable.
But the Veterans Administration and those who run the VA Hospital in Clarksburg also face accountability, and that goes well beyond expressing sympathy for the families and blaming media coverage.