Veterans want answers over two homicides and a string of suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia
At the center of town, next to the aging stone courthouse, stand several war memorials.
Etched in granite are the names of 93 veterans awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded or killed in 20th century battles. A flag mounted atop fading concrete honors fallen heroes of the USS West Virginia, sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the country into World War II.
They’re similar to monuments in many small towns, a public declaration of the community’s patriotism.
Now, they’re a reminder of betrayal as authorities investigate about 10 suspicious deaths at the VA hospital a few miles away. Two of those deaths have been ruled homicides.
The two elderly veterans — one served in the Army, the other in the Air Force — were killed the same way, with injections of insulin they didn’t need. Their blood sugar plummeted and they died a day apart in April 2018.
“It breaks my heart that someone would do that to a vet,” said Donald “Duck” Webster. He served in Vietnam in the Air Force and now serves on a town council nearby.
“It’s scary – really scary,” he said. “We put our trust in the doctors and nurses of the VA.”
Beyond the two homicides, at least eight more deaths are being scrutinized by investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the VA Office of Inspector General.
The deaths have gripped this community, raised questions about oversight of the VA hospital and puzzled veterans.
Families of veterans who died at the hospital now wonder if they have the full story. “That is what’s going to be put in people’s minds,” said John Aloi, senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 573 in Clarksburg.
Federal officials have offered little to the community beyond formal statements and reassurances of their commitment to veterans.
The office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, has said it learned about the problem in July 2018, a couple weeks after doctors notified administrators of the unexplained deaths. But Manchin said Friday he didn’t know until last week any deaths had been ruled homicides.
Family devastated by VA hospital death ruled homicide
He has urged the Department of Justice to take swift action and share details to ease families’ worries.
“Veterans across my state are losing confidence in the safety, security, and quality of their VA healthcare,” Manchin wrote Thursday to Attorney General William Barr. “The public deserves answers immediately.”
Manchin visited the hospital Friday, saying he wanted to get answers from hospital administrators.
“My biggest question is, when? When did we know there were serious problems?” he asked. “When did we confirm that first death, knowing it was an intentional homicide and not an accident?”
Bill Powell, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said in a statement Friday there’s an “ongoing and comprehensive federal criminal investigation,” but the office won’t comment until it’s complete.
‘Somebody needs to be held accountable’
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SOURCE: USA Today – Ken Alltucker