CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. senators representing West Virginia have introduced a bill meant to provide greater transparency for patient safety at VA hospitals.
The bill, introduced by Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, was prompted by about 10 suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
“Victims’ families have waited long enough and deserve answers. I can’t imagine having a loved one murdered at a VA Medical Center and after a year and a half, still not knowing how it happened,” stated Manchin, D-W.Va.
Six of the veterans have been publicly identified. They include Russ Posey, William Alfred Holloway, Felix Kirk McDermott, George Nelson Shaw, Archie Edgell and John Hallman.
The victims were ill when they went to the hospital, according to their families, but not expected to die. Lawyers for the families say each victim was given fatal doses of insulin, even though none were diabetic.
The deaths are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Inspector General for the VA. Those involved with the case have suggested a person of interest no longer works at the VA but has not yet been arrested.
The Washington Post has reported that the person of interest initially was transferred to a desk job, and then was fired after a few months. She was accused of falsely claiming on her resume that she was certified as a nursing assistant.
The bill being introduced by Manchin and Capito would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to submit detailed reports on patient safety and quality of care at VA Medical Centers.
Additionally, the bill would require the VA, once the criminal investigations are completed, to submit a detailed report and timeline of events surrounding the deaths at the Clarksburg VA.
“This legislation will help our Veterans and their families gain insight into the policies and procedures that could have led to these homicides,” Manchin stated.
“Ultimately our goal is to help restore public confidence in the VA across West Virginia and the nation.”
Capito, R-W.Va., agreed.
“Our veterans should always feel safe and cared for at our VA hospitals. No questions asked,” Capito stated.
Capito said she has remained in touch with federal VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, Clarksburg VA Director Glenn Snider and VA Inspector General Michael Missa.
“We need to discuss how these tragedies happened and how to prevent similar occurrences in West Virginia and VA hospitals nationwide,” Capito stated. “This legislation will help us find answers to these questions and help make sure that tragedies like this never happen again.”
Tony O’Dell, a Charleston lawyer who represents several of the families of veterans who died under suspicious circumstances, said the bill is a good start.
“However, the victims’ families should not have to wait for this legislation to make its way through both houses of Congress and then be implemented down the road by the VA to get answers,” O’Dell stated in reaction to a question posed by MetroNews.
O’Dell said the VA and the Inspector General already know veterans died as a result of medically-unexplained severe hypoglycemia.
But, O’Dell stated, “We will never truly know how many veterans died as result of this VA medical center’s malfeasance and total lack of caring.
“The OIG should issue its report on the hospital system failures now and the VA should be reaching out to the victims’ families to admit what it did wrong and try to right its wrongs as best it can.”
The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center provided a response on Tuesday evening.
Wesley Walls, a spokesman for the hospital, said access and quality information for all VA facilities is available online. And Walls suggested the frustration by Manchin and Capito is misplaced.
“We understand the senators’ frustration, but we hope they can recognize that this matter is out of Clarksburg VAMC’s hands and is now with VA’s independent inspector general, which has been investigating this issue for well over a year,” Walls stated.
“Clarksburg VA Medical Center discovered these allegations and fired the individual at the center of them. But well over a year after Clarksburg VAMC reported this issue to authorities, Veterans and families are still waiting for the independent IG to complete its work and provide the closure West Virginia Veterans and families deserve.”
Walls concluded, “If the senators have questions regarding the status of the independent IG’s investigation, we would encourage them to ask the IG for an update.”