Lawyer: FBI involved in probe of deaths at VA hospital

The VA hospital is under fire after an autopsy revealed a non-diabetic patient received a fatal dose of insulin, causing his death. (Source: WDTV/Gray News)
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The FBI is involved in an investigation of suspicious deaths at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia, according to a lawyer for the estate of a Vietnam veteran who died at the facility.

Attorney Tony O'Dell said Thursday that his client and others have indicated the bureau is involved in investigating the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.

O'Dell represents the estate of Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott. He's filed notice of a pending lawsuit that says the 82-year-old was wrongly injected with a fatal dose of insulin at the hospital in April 2018. The death was ruled a homicide.

As many as 11 suspicious deaths have occurred at the hospital, U.S. Sen Joe Manchin has said. The West Virginia Democrat said Thursday that he spoke with U.S. Attorney General William Barr about the deaths and has been assured that the Department of Justice will provide resources during the investigation.

The FBI referred questions to the local U.S. attorney's office, which has declined to confirm or deny an investigation. The VA's inspector general has confirmed he is investigating "potential wrongdoing resulting in patient deaths" at the hospital.

Manchin says the VA inspector general told his office about the opening of a medical and criminal investigation of the hospital in July 2018, after at least nine patients were diagnosed with unexplained low blood sugar. He said he told Barr in a letter that he has "grave concerns over the pace of the investigation."

A lawyer for the family of another veteran told The Associated Press on Thursday that George Nelson Shaw Sr., a retired member of the Air Force, also died at the hospital in April 2018 from a wrongful insulin injection that was later classified as a homicide.

Attorney David Glover said Shaw had been in the Air Force for 28 years and later worked at the Clarksburg VA hospital before his death at 81 years old.

"This is a military family," Glover said. "They put their trust in the VA and they feel total betrayal."

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Aug. 25

A lawsuit filed by the Tiano O’Dell law firm claims that retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott received a fatal dose of insulin while a patient at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.

According to the suit, McDermott, 82, was admitted to the VA medical center on April 6, 2018. He died of hypoglycemia, or severe low blood sugar, on April 9, 2018.

The claim stated that employees never told McDermott’s family how he died. He was buried four days later.

On Oct. 23, 2018, McDermott's remains were exhumed and sent to the Dover Air Force Base for an autopsy and investigation.

The autopsy completed in February confirmed that McDermott was not a diabetic and that he was showing improvement in his medical condition when was injected with insulin.

McDermott’s death was ruled a homicide.

The lawsuit also claims that nine or 10 other patients died of severe low blood sugar before McDermott’s death.

“It’s all very disturbing that people who served our country were being killed either extremely negligently, grossly negligently or intentionally, and nobody has done anything about it,” said Tony O’Dell, the family’s lawyer.

The VA medical center breached its duty and was negligent in several ways, the lawsuit said, and thus, their client, the estate of McDermott, is seeking damages of up to $5 million for wrongful death, $1 million for personal injuries and expenses for the funeral and other costs.

"Each time one of these deaths happened, they have an obligation to run at the ground to find out what happened, why it happened, how it could be prevented," O'Dell said.

McDermott was a Vietnam veteran who served for 20 years before retiring.

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore-Capito released statements about the claim.

“This news is sickening and troubling," Capito said. "My office has reached out to the VA to learn more details, and I will do everything I can to make sure this is fully investigated.”

Sen. Joe Manchin release a statement on the lawsuit, saying: “This report is shocking and if accurate, I am appalled that these crimes were not only committed but that our Veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims. As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee I will do everything in my power to investigate these accusations and get to the bottom of what happened. These families and loved ones deserve answers as soon as possible and I will make sure they get them."