A day after a key senator complained he has been kept in the dark about a string of suspicious veteran deaths in West Virginia, the Washington Post reported Thursday that federal prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in anticipation of criminal charges in the case.
The newspaper reported that the investigation is now centered on a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarskburg, W.Va. Thus far, federal investigators and VA officials have not identified what medical personnel may have been involved in the deaths, but have said they were looking into hospital staff.
Lawmakers tracking the investigations have said as many as 11 deaths at the VA facility in 2018 may amount to murder. Military autopsies of some of the victims have identified the cause of death as unnecessary insulin injections, and labeled the cases as homicides.
On Wednesday, at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin expressed frustration at the lack of progress in the investigation in recent months.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It has been a year and a half, and nothing has been done. We have a suspected person, but not one arrest has been made. I can’t get information out of the VA or the prosecutor's office.
“If you had a loved one who may have died during that period, thinking they died of natural causes, but now knowing that at least 11 did not … We owe those people an answer.”
VA officials have referred all questions on the case to FBI and the department’s inspector general, who are carrying out the investigation into the deaths.
"We understand the senator’s frustration, and we hope he can recognize that this matter is out of Clarksburg VA Medical Center’s hands,” said facility spokesman Wesley Walls. “Clarksburg VAMC discovered these allegations. Clarksburg also fired the individual at the center of them.”
Department of Justice officials did not return requests for comment on the cases. A spokesman for the VA Inspector General repeated his office’s statement from last August on the investigation, noting that officials are “unable to provide any additional information at this time” because of the ongoing work.
Manchin said he wants quicker explanation and resolution on the “horrible murders.”
The Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr has become personally involved in the case, asking officials for periodic updates on the status of the cases.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.