Second Death At West Virginia VA Hospital Ruled As Homicide
The widow of a veteran who died under suspicious circumstances at a West Virginia Veteran Affairs Hospital last year told NPR an autopsy report found the 81-year-old died of an unnecessary insulin injection. It is the second confirmed homicide in a string of deaths at the facility that are being investigated.
The widow, Norma Shaw, referred to her lawyer, David Glover, for further questions. Glover said the body of George Nelson Shaw Sr. was exhumed in January. Shortly afterward, he said, the family received an autopsy from an Armed Forces medical examiner "that talked about a severe hypoglycemic event."
"It listed the cause of death as insulin administration," Glover said, adding that while Shaw had other ailments, he was not diabetic.
Insulin can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, in nondiabetics and can be deadly.
The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veteran Affairs confirmed on Tuesday that officials are investigating several suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va.
In a statement, the Inspector General's office said it has been working with federal law enforcement partners "to investigate the allegations of potential wrongdoing resulting in patient deaths." It did not specify the number of deaths that are being reviewed, nor the time frame of the fatalities.
The announcement of the ongoing investigations comes after a wrongful death claim was filed with the VA last week, regarding the death of retired Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott. An autopsy of the 82-year-old who died in April 2018 showed McDermott received "one massive insulin injection" that killed him within a matter of hours, the family's attorney, Tony O'Dell, told NPR.
The complaint filed by O'Dell alleges the Inspector General's office is investigating up to 10 other cases in which veterans died of hypoglycemia caused by insulin injections. Over the past week he's been contacted by multiple families seeking answers to unexplained hypoglycemic deaths dating as far back as June 2017, he said.
"Whenever there's an unexplained death or a suspicious death, the hospital has to report it and they go through a process looking for the root cause," O'Dell explained. "The fact that that did not happen here tells you that there was a complete system failure at this hospital," he said.
Officials at the medical center said in an emailed statement that the allegations of potential misconduct do not involve "current" employees.
The VA has yet to publicly identify any person of interest.
Reports of the suspicious deaths have drawn ire from the public and politicians, including Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito. The U.S. senators representing West Virginia were informed of the investigations several weeks ago.
In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Inspector General Michael Missal on Tuesday, Manchin, who sits on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, urged them to "quickly complete" the investigations into the potential homicides.
"I also ask you to contact grieving family members and share as much information as you can with them," he wrote, adding that as of this morning he had heard from seven families seeking information into the deaths of their loved ones.
Manchin also expressed frustration with the lack of communication and transparency from either office regarding the investigations.
"Let us not forget that there are veterans' families who are in grief because of this terrible situation," he said.
Emily Allen from West Virginia Public Broadcasting contributed to this story.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.