Vietnam Vet's Death Ruled Homicide Amid Investigation into Deaths at VA Hospital

The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)

A Ritchie County woman says her father was one of about 10 patients who died at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Clarksburg after they were wrongfully injected with insulin by a person who is known to federal administrators through an investigation into the deaths.

A deputy medical examiner with the U.S. Department of Defense ruled the death of Felix "Kirk" McDermott a homicide during an investigation by the VA Inspector General's Office into the suspicious deaths of patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital, according to a statement of claim submitted to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Investigators for Veterans Affairs have identified a person of interest in the case, but they have not disclosed the identity of that person to McDermott's family, and no criminal charges have been filed in the case, according to the claim.

The claim doesn't indicate whether the person of interest was an employee at the hospital.

The Gazette-Mail obtained a copy of the claim, filed by McDermott's daughter, Melanie Proctor. The claim addresses only the circumstances surrounding McDermott's death, but it refers to the investigation into his and other deaths.

According to the claim, medical staff did not tell McDermott's family how he died on April 9, 2018, when he was a patient being treated for pneumonia.

McDermott was a Vietnam veteran, and he retired as a sergeant to end a 20-year career in the U.S. Army. He subsequently served in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

"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 despite the VAMC being on notice of the previous wrongful injections," said Proctor's attorney, Tony O'Dell, with Tiano O'Dell PLLC in Charleston.

O'Dell said on Friday that he was not aware of any claims filed on behalf of the other potential victims in the case.

The Gazette-Mail reached out to the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General for comment, but an office representative declined to comment as to whether there was an investigation, citing office policy.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued a statement Friday, after news reports about the investigation were released, saying the reports were "shocking if accurate."

"I am appalled that these crimes were not only committed, but that our Veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims," Manchin wrote. "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. These families and loved ones deserve answers as soon as possible and I will make sure they get them."

Proctor, who is the executor of McDermott's estate, is seeking monetary damages, including $7,500 for funeral expenses.

If McDermott's family and the government can't resolve the claim within six months, the family will have the ability to file a lawsuit in federal court.

McDermott died after he was injected with insulin while he was a patient at the hospital in April 2018, O'Dell said in the claim.

At the time of McDermott's death, employees at the hospital were aware of the "unexpected and suspicious" deaths from unexplained severe hypoglycemia.

"Each of these nine or ten patients had received a large and wrongful injection of insulin in the abdomen that was neither ordered by a doctor or medically necessary," the claim states.

McDermott did not suffer from diabetes, nor had he ever been diagnosed or taken medication for the condition, O'Dell said.

The other patients whose deaths are subject to the investigation also died as a result of being wrongfully injected with insulin in their abdomens, O'Dell said in the claim.

McDermott was admitted to the Clarksburg VA medical center on April 6, 2018, for pneumonia. At the time of his admission, he had been diagnosed with dementia and experienced a physical disability as a result of a stroke.

During his initial stay at the facility, McDermott's health condition improved, but he unexpectedly developed shortness of breath during the morning of April 9, 2018, O'Dell said.

A blood test showed McDermott was suffering from hypoglycemia, meaning his blood sugar was "critically and profoundly" low, and medical efforts to raise it were unsuccessful.

"His condition continued to worsen, and he died from severe hypoglycemia at roughly 9:00 a.m. on the morning of April 9, 2018," O'Dell said. "Employees of the VAMC never explained to Ret. Army Sgt. McDermott's family the unexplained diagnosis of hypoglycemia."

McDermott's family arranged funeral services for him, and he was buried on April 13, 2018.

On Oct. 23, 2018, McDermott's remains were disinterred and taken to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, for an autopsy as part of the investigation into the suspicious deaths at the Clarksburg VA hospital. The deputy medical examiner who performed the autopsy determined that his cause of death was the insulin administration and said McDermott's manner of death was a homicide.

It was during the process of this investigation that Proctor and the rest of McDermott's family learned there was evidence that her father might have died as a result of the insulin injection and that her father was one of the last known victims to have died in that manner.

"It was not until months later [after McDermott died] that government investigators contacted Ret. Army Sgt. McDermott's daughter Melanie Proctor and advised her of the earlier deaths and their belief that her father's death was not a result of natural causes," O'Dell said.

This article is written by Lacie Pierson from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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