Wilkie Calls for Release of Information in Suspicious VA Deaths in West Virginia

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, shown on Capitol Hill on March 27, 2019, is urging the department's Inspector General to release the results of an inquiry into deaths at a West Virginia VA medical center. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, shown on Capitol Hill on March 27, 2019, is urging the department's Inspector General to release the results of an inquiry into deaths at a West Virginia VA medical center. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is urging the department's inspector general to conclude his investigation into the suspicious deaths of as many as 10 veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and release the results.

Speaking on the Fox News program "Outnumbered Overtime" on Thursday, Wilkie said he has no oversight of VA Inspector General Michael Missal, but needs him to conclude his investigation into the deaths.

Wilkie's appearance on the network came after a second family stepped forward Wednesday, speaking to USA Today about the circumstances surrounding the death of Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw, who passed away April 10, 2018, seemingly under similar circumstances as other veterans at the Clarksburg VA.

"I've been inquiring and demanding that this inspector general gives us the answers," Wilkie said. "I am not privy to the particulars of these investigations. What I am asking is that he finally end his investigation so we can get answers to the families that they deserve."

Related: Authorities Investigating “Person of Interest” in Suspicious Deaths at VA, Senator Says

Last week, the family of Army Sgt. Maj. Felix "Kirk" McDermott filed a wrongful death suit against the VA after learning that his death was ruled a homicide by an armed forces medical examiner. According to the suit, McDermott was exhumed and the manner of death was determined to be by an insulin injection that wasn't ordered by his doctor or medically required.

Shaw's family told USA Today they also had been contacted by investigators with a request to exhume his body for the purpose of an autopsy.

Shaw also was found to have been injected with insulin -- at four different injection sites. He had no history of diabetes and was not prescribed insulin.

Speaking through Charleston, West Virginia, attorney Tony O'Dell, McDermott's daughter, Melanie Proctor, said VA investigators told her there was evidence that at least nine or 10 other patients at the hospital had been wrongfully injected with insulin, "thereby causing their deaths," O'Dell told the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram, which first reported the news.

"Ms. Proctor was further advised that her father was one of the last known victims," he added.

Missal, the VA's top investigator, released a statement Tuesday saying his office would not comment on the ongoing case. He added that his team is working with other federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the allegations.

"As is always the case, the VA OIG works with the [VA] to identify and urgently address allegations related to patient safety," Missal wrote. "The care and safety of our veterans and their families remain our top priority."

In a statement Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said the investigation has focused on a "person of interest" but the person is no longer in contact with veterans at the facility.

"As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will do everything in my power to investigate these accusations and get to the bottom of what happened," Manchin said.

He urged the VA OIG to conclude the investigation and release the results. Wilkie echoed the sentiment in his appearance on Fox and said the investigation is taking "far too long."

Related: Vietnam Vet’s Death Ruled a Homicide Amid Investigation into Deaths at VA Hospital

"The inspector general has to get us the answers. ... It looks to me that [the veterans] have been victims of a crime, but we haven't received those conclusions from the criminal investigation," Wilke said.

In an appearance on CNN, O'Dell said relatives of other veterans have reached out to him, indicating that some cases date to July 2017. "This is a huge system failure," he said.

But Wilkie denied that the problem was widespread. He said veterans at VA medical facilities are "safe," even though it looks like some veterans are victims of a crime at one VA medical center.

"We have more than 400,000 employees at the VA, and the notion that this would be widespread just strains credulity," he said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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