Gazette-Mail editorial: Clarksburg VA incidents monstrous

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been hit with one controversy after another in recent years, ranging from long waits for patients (including some dying while waiting to see a doctor) to patient neglect and, in some cases, poor facility conditions.

These are all things the VA is trying to address, but the tragedy in Clarksburg, where 11 veterans died under suspicious circumstances in the spring of 2018, is an entirely different type of problem.

The VA Office of the Inspector General has confirmed it is investigating each case at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, on the heels of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., demanding answers on the subject. The issue came to pubic attention after the family of Ret. Army Sgt. Felix “Kirk” McDermott filed a claim against the federal government, stating McDermott’s April 2018 death, originally blamed on complications from pneumonia, was found to be a homicide when his body was exhumed for an autopsy six months later.

The medical examiner found McDermott, who was 83, was given a fatal dose of insulin, a drug used for treating diabetes, according to the claim. McDermott was not a diabetic. The 10 other deaths under investigation at the Clarksburg facility are also reportedly the result of an insulin injection into each patient’s abdomen, causing blood sugar levels to fatally crash.

This is simply monstrous. Those who served in the United States Armed Forces should receive the best care possible. Yes, it’s a government system and as such has some system-wide problems. But no veteran should go into a VA medical facility, or any medical facility for that matter, with the slightest possibility of being intentionally harmed.

No suspect has been named in the case. There is a “person of interest” who, according to a statement from Manchin, is no longer interacting with patients at the facility. That’s something, at least, though what that person is doing now or whether they are still employed with the VA was not made entirely clear. As Manchin and fellow Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have noted, there’s not nearly enough information coming out from the VA on these deaths.

There isn’t always a red flag that a health care worker poses a risk to patients. Still, it will be of crucial note in this investigation whether anything occurred that caught the attention of other staff or administration and could have stopped what allegedly happened in Clarksburg.

Whether it’s the VA or the local hospital, whether the patient is a veteran or a citizen, no one should have to fear willful harm when seeking medical attention or undergoing medical procedures. Those who prey upon patients are an especially contemptible breed of monster, taking advantage of those who are entirely dependent on and at the mercy of health care staff. We hope this investigation will provide answers to the families of those who died, and will hold whoever allegedly killed these patients fully accountable. In the meantime, health care providers everywhere need to be evaluating their own protocols to make sure this type of thing never happens again.

Funerals Today, Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Babiak, Flora - 11 a.m., Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Montgomery.

Cooper, Eddie - 1 p.m., Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Hill Sr., Paul - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Holtsclaw, Mark - 11:30 a.m., Witcher Baptist Church.

Lockhart, Stanley - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Morris, Marcalene - 11 a.m., Waters Funeral Chapel, Summersville.

Payne, Lois Jean (Little) - 1 p.m., Wilcoxen Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Petty, Denver - Noon, Sharon Church of God, Dry Branch.

Smith, Carolyn - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Snyder, Carol - Noon, Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Vaughan, James - 11 a.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Williamson, Ronald - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.