CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Linda Shaw’s eye focused on one word in her father’s autopsy report.
“First thing you see in bold print is homicide. It’s midway down the page, and that’s what you see first,” Shaw said in an interview with MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
The Shaw family is among about 10 dealing with the unthinkable — mysterious deaths at the VA hospital in Clarksburg.
Air Force veteran George Shaw, 81, needed treatment for low blood pressure and symptoms of dehydration. But his symptoms plummeted unexpectedly and he died.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Linda Shaw, his daughter, remembered thinking. “There is no way on God’s green earth that this should have happened.”
Veterans received assurances of medical care for the rest of their lives. But families are now living with horror and sorrow that they died of unnatural causes while trying to receive care.
The FBI and the Office of Inspector General for the Veterans Administration are investigating. Like other families, the Shaws have hired a lawyer, David Glover of Clarksburg. And U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has promised to push until there are more answers.
The Shaws remain stunned about what has happened.
George Shaw served 28 years in the Air Force as a communications specialist. After retiring from the Air Force, he took a job for eight years working at the VA hospital in Clarksburg.
He and his wife, Norma, married in 1959. They had three children, nine grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren. Patriotism and military service run in the family.
“Dad encouraged us to serve,” Linda recalled. “I remember when I was 18, hemming and hawing about it. And you know what, Uncle Sam kind of help raise me for 18 years. Uncle Sam helped provide.”
Shaw was also active. He had been a hunter and a fisherman. He and Norma participated in a bowling league.
“He bowled two weeks before he went in the hospital,” Norma said.
He went to the Louis A. Johnson Medical Center on March 22, 2018. He had some chronic conditions — dementia and heart problems. But in this instance, he was just feeling a little bit weak.
“They were going to give him some fluids, build him back up,” Norma said. “He was in good spirits. He wanted to come home. He missed his dog.”
But on the morning of March 26, he took a turn for the worse.
“His sugar had dropped, he wasn’t doing anything, he was just dying,” Linda said. “Overnight, he went from robust for his age to dying and it’s a shock. The only thing I could think of was, ‘What’s going on with my dad? Why is this happening? What happened to make him like this?'”
Shaw was transferred to hospice.
Nothing made sense.
“Nothing. We had no explanation as to what did happen,” Norma said. “He just regressed. He couldn’t feed himself. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t go to the bathroom by himself.”
By April 10, he had died.
The family celebrated his life and started dealing with the hole left in their lives.
“There was no explanation at any point about why my father’s health declined so rapidly. So you go through the shock and disbelief and grieving,” Linda said. “And months and months pass and you still think this should not have happened.”
Then, in July 2018, the FBI reached out to the Shaws.
“They were investigating my husband’s death and investigating some other mysterious deaths at the VA around that same time,” Norma said. “I couldn’t believe what was going on.”
Investigators returned in late summer 2018 to get permission to have George Shaw’s body exhumed.
The exhumation occurred this past January. His body was sent to Dover Air Force Base, and the autopsy was performed shortly after that.
This past July, the family received a copy of the autopsy.
Four injection sites were found — two on the left arm, one on the right and another on his right thigh. Each tested positive for insulin, according to the autopsy report.
Yet Shaw had no history of diabetes or prescribed insulin administration. Insulin can cause fatal blood sugar crashes.
“When they said it was a homicide, my sister and I were like, ‘We knew it.’ We knew he never should have died. We knew there was something wrong,'” Linda said.
Despite the confirmation, she remains staggered.
“How could this happen? How could it happen at the VA? How could it happen at someplace I trust, someplace that I get my care? How can I go back?” she said. “We’ve got to make sure this never happens again to anybody anywhere, not just to our family.”
No one has been arrested yet.
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia has described a thorough investigation that is closer to its end than to its beginning.
The Shaws indicated confidence in the investigators.
“I believe the FBI and the OIG’s investigation will point to one person of interest, and that individual is most likely responsible for the deaths. I say most likely because the evidence is not in yet,” Linda said.
“These boys are dotting every I and crossing every T, and I say let them do it. Let them do their investigation however long it takes. Let’s get the truth out there. Let’s get the individual or individuals who are responsible. Let’s get them accountable. Let’s let justice be justice.”
Manchin, who visited the VA hospital a couple of weeks ago, is getting impatient. He wants to hear more from the Veterans Administration.
“They have been clammed up tighter than a clam,” Manchin said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “Things aren’t squaring up. I am very much concerned. I am very much upset.”
Manchin serves on the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs. He says that committee will investigate.
“Hopefully next week, we can get things in motion,” Manchin said. “If we have no end in sight, we’re going to start our own.”
The Shaws are still trying to process what has happened.
“My family and the families of the other victims have been betrayed. We have been betrayed by the healthcare system that we trust, that we trusted for a good portion of our lives,” Linda said.
“We have been betrayed by the VA as an institution to have allowed my father to have been murdered in his bed.”
Linda and George Shaw would have shared a milestone anniversary this past summer.
“For this to happen, I just … you can’t replace him,” she said. “We would have been married 60 years this past June, and that was taken away from me.”