Probe of suspicious deaths at VA is nearing conclusion, federal prosecutor says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal prosecutor Bill Powell says his office will make greater efforts to inform victims’ families about an investigation into deaths at the Veterans Administration hospital in Clarksburg.

Bill Powell

And Powell says the investigation of up to 10 deaths under mysterious circumstances is close to being finished.

“We’re not at the beginning of the beginning. We’re at the beginning of the end,” Powell, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“We’re moving as rapidly as we can conceivably move to make sure we get it right.”

Families of veterans who died under suspicious circumstances have complained in recent weeks that federal officials haven’t been more forthcoming.

The families say loved ones who sought treatment at the hospital died after their blood sugar levels plummeted because of unplanned insulin injections.

Authorities have described a person of interest who no longer has access to patients, but other details have been elusive so far.

Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been particularly vocal in wanting more answers about the situation at the hospital. Manchin visited the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg on Friday.

“I’m frustrated that I’m not getting answers because of the ongoing investigation,” Manchin stated after the visit.

“All of the facts will come out and no one in the VA system will be protected if they had any involvement in this horrible crime against veterans.”

Two families have come forward so far to confirm veterans who were being treated at the hospital died under odd circumstances. In both cases, autopsies later concluded they were homicide victims.

Air Force veteran George Shaw, 81, was admitted last year for dehydration symptoms but suddenly went downhill and died on April 10, 2018.

Retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott, 81, was admitted to the hospital after choking on some food. His condition also plummeted and he died on April 9, 2010.

In both cases, autopsies concluded, the veterans were injected with insulin even though they were not diabetic. That caused their blood sugar to crash, fatally.

Powell on Monday addressed the status of the federal probe, but could not provide many specifics about when more might be revealed.

“I’m not going to say anything that will damage the integrity of the investigation,” Powell said.

But Powell said he does want to reassure families that significant resources are devoted to investigating what has happened at the VA hospital.

He said the victims’ advocate from the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be more involved with communicating with victims’ families.

“The only thing I think we’ll be doing a little differently is to the extent that it appears the families have not been brought totally up to speed about where we are going, I’m going to make sure my victim’s advocate with my office is in touch with the families,” he said.

On “Talkline,” he described parallel probes by the FBI and by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Veterans Administration.

“All possible resources are going into it,” he said. “It’s just one of those cases that takes some time, takes some effort, significant amounts of records have to be reviewed before any decision is made.”

He added, “I suspect even more resources will be devoted in the coming days and weeks.”

He agreed that the pace of the investigation can be frustrating. Some of the reported deaths occurred in 2018.

“It’s very frustrating that it takes so long,”he said, “but unfortunately sometimes these things take time.”

He elaborated to say that although it’s clear the deaths are suspicious, investigators must do more to be able to pin down what happened and why.

“We are looking to determine whether someone committed a crime and if we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

The investigation process includes going through medical records and also determining who had access to the patients who died.

“Access to those patients was a significant number of people – from janitors to doctors to visitors and everything else,” Powell said.

He said investigators need to have the facts nailed down before charging a suspect.

“We need to get this right. We get one bite at this apple,” he said. “If it’s a person or persons we, will prosecute them.”

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