U.S. attorney: Investigation into VA deaths a 'top priority'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Demand for answers escalated as federal officials promised Friday to conduct a sweeping investigation into suspicious deaths at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia.
U.S Attorney Bill Powell confirmed that his office is involved in an "ongoing and comprehensive federal criminal investigation" into the deaths of up to 11 patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. At least two of the deaths have been ruled homicides, according to attorneys representing families of men who died.
Powell called the investigation a "top priority" and said the investigation began as soon as potential criminal activity was discovered.
"We fully understand the desire for a speedy resolution and need for closure," Powell said. "The VA will continue to coordinate with the affected families, but in order to protect the integrity of the investigation, we will not be making any additional comments until the investigation is complete."
The FBI and the VA Office of Inspector General are helping with the investigation.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie have each called for an expedited investigation.
Manchin, a Democrat, was headed to the facility for a tour and meetings with hospital staff and veterans Friday afternoon. He 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 has referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office, which until Friday had declined to confirm the 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."
Wilkie told Fox News on Thursday that he agrees with Manchin's call to speed things up.
"It is time for the inspector general ... to finally end this investigation to answer the questions that our grieving families have," he said.
Attorneys representing the families of two veterans say their deaths at the facility were ruled homicides.
Attorney Tony 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.
Attorney David Glover 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. He was 81 years old.