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Up to 11 deaths at VA hospital in West Virginia under investigation, one ruled a homicide

A Vietnam veteran died after being injected in his abdomen with insulin, though he was not diabetic. Nine or 10 similar deaths at the hospital are being investigated.

Investigators are probing the deaths of about 10 patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia, and an additional death — a retired Vietnam vet — has been ruled a homicide.

Retired Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, died in April 2018 at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

The cause was hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, brought on by an injection of insulin in his abdomen, according to a $6 million wrongful death claim filed by McDermott's estate against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Insulin can be deadly if a patient does not suffer from diabetes — and McDermott was not diabetic, his family said.

The family says they were left in the dark in the months after his death.

"Nobody at the medical center told his family about the sudden and unexplained hypoglycemia that caused his death," the claim says. Nor was the family told about "similar unexplained" patient deaths at the hospital.

Not until about six months later, in October 2018, when the VA Office of the Inspector General had McDermott's remains exhumed for autopsy, did investigators tell his daughter "that there was evidence that nine or 10 other patients" at the hospital had died after insulin was injected into their abdomens, the claim says.

McDermott's daughter was told that her father was "one of the last known victims," the claim says.

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner ruled McDermott's death a homicide.

"If the medical examiner's conclusion is correct, Felix Kirk McDermott was murdered while he was in the care and custody of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center," the family's claim says.

Image: Felix McDermott.
Felix McDermott.Courtesy of Tony O'Dell

A Department of Veterans Affairs representative said in a statement that the medical center was being investigated and that no "current" employees of the hospital was involved.

A spokesperson for the hospital said it is "cooperating fully" with the investigation.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., echoed the Veterans Affairs representative, saying he had been told that a "person of interest" in the matter "is no longer in any contact with" patients.

"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," Manchin said in a statement. "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."

The state's other senator, Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, said, “This news is sickening and troubling."

"We will continue to stay on top of this, and I will do everything I can to make sure this is fully investigated," Capito said in a statement.