By Rich McKay
(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.
The VA did not say how many deaths are under investigation at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
“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,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in a statement, declining further comment.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said as many as 11 deaths are under investigation and there was a “person of interest”.
Manchin said he was assured by VA officials “that the person of interest 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,” he added.
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, USA Today said, adding that his condition was 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; editing by Darren Schuettler)