(Reuters) - U.S. authorities are investigating suspicious deaths at a veterans hospital in West Virginia, the Veterans Affairs department said on Tuesday, and a U.S. senator said the probe may involve up to 11 deaths.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said there was a “person of interest” in the investigation of as many as 11 deaths, and that VA officials assured him this person “is no longer in contact with veterans at the VA facility.”
“These crimes shock the conscience and I’m still appalled they were not only committed but that our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims,” Manchin said.
A hospital spokesman, Wesley Walls, confirmed on Wednesday the allegations “do not involve any current Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center employees,” and that “safeguards” to ensure patient safety have since been implemented.
The facility contacted the VA inspector general when it learned of the allegations, and notified Manchin’s staff and the staffs of other lawmakers a year ago, Walls said in an email.
In a statement, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said: “The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General has been working with our federal law enforcement partners to investigate the allegations of potential wrongdoing resulting in patient deaths.”
The VA Secretary’s office did not respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.
USA Today said a federal medical examiner had conducted an autopsy on the exhumed body of Felix Kirk McDermott. The 82-year-old man died last year from an insulin injection into his abdomen - which can be lethal to someone who is not a diabetic, the newspaper said.
McDermott suffered from a number of ailments, including dementia and heart disease, and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, the paper said, adding his condition had been improving at the time of his death.
His death certificate now lists his cause of death as a homicide, USA Today and other media reported.
“It’s not right,” Melanie Proctor, McDermott’s daughter, told USA Today. “I thought my dad was safe there.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Darren Schuettler and Bernadette Baum