VA investigating sexual assaults at West Virginia hospital
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Federal authorities are investigating allegations of sexual assaults at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia.
The VA inspector general issued a statement this week saying the office is working with federal law enforcement to look into multiple assaults at the Beckley VA Medical Center.
Hospital spokeswoman Sara Yoke says an “individual” was fired in response to the allegations but she didn’t release the person’s identity or job title.
“VA has made clear it will hold employees accountable when they fail to live up to the high standards Veterans and taxpayers expect, and that’s exactly what happened in this case,” she said.
The investigation comes as federal prosecutors are conducting a sweeping criminal probe of the deaths of up to 11 patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Bill Powell, the U.S. attorney in West Virginia, has said the investigation is a “top priority.”
Attorneys have said two of those deaths have been ruled homicides, with both veterans dying from wrongful insulin injections.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he spoke directly with Attorney General William Barr about the deaths and told Barr in a letter that he has “grave concerns over the pace of the investigation.”
Two bodies were already exhumed as part of the investigation and the FBI has plans to exhume a third, Manchin said.
The Democrat said VA officials had told him a “person of interest” was no longer in contact with any veterans at the facility. The VA inspector general told Manchin’s office about the opening of a medical and criminal investigation of the hospital in July 2018, after at least nine patients were diagnosed with unexplained low blood sugar, the senator said.
The VA is the government’s second-largest department, responsible for 9 million military veterans.
President Donald Trump railed against care by the VA as he campaigned in 2016, promising to fix the agency. He signed legislation that made it easier to fire VA employees and speed disability appeals and expanded the Veterans Choice program, which gives veterans the option to see private doctors outside the VA medical system at government expense.
The agency’s former director was fired last year in the wake of a bruising ethics scandal and a mounting rebellion within the agency, and the doctor whom Trump nominated to replace him had to withdraw his nomination amid accusations of misconduct.
This story has been edited to correct the hospital’s location to Beckley, not Charleston.