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VA Deaths

Could officials have prevented the killings?

Whether the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is legally liable for the murders of veterans at its hospital in Clarksburg is one thing. Whether VA officials are morally culpable may be another thing entirely.

Reta Mays, a former nursing assistant at the hospital, has pleaded guilty to murdering seven veterans and attempting to kill another one. She used lethal injections of insulin.

Relatives of the deceased veterans have filed five lawsuits against the VA. One, filed this week, states the VA “failed to properly protect” veterans at the hospital.

Responses to some of the lawsuits have been filed by government attorneys. In one document, the VA argues that Mays “acted outside the scope of her employment and that the United States is not liable for the criminal misconduct of Reta P. Mays.”

Perhaps not, under the law. A judge will have to decide whether the VA is off the hook because Mays “acted outside the scope of her employment …”

But the government’s argument dodges a more important question: Could officials at the Clarksburg VA hospital have done more to protect veterans while Mays was engaged in her killing spree in 2018?

As we noted last week, one of the lawsuits maintains that the hospital’s “emergency department staff openly commented that if patients were admitted to Floor 3A they would die.” If that is true, how is it that VA officials did not look into the suspicious deaths?

There are numerous other pertinent questions: Did no one notice more insulin than was supposed to have been used for patients who needed it was missing? Did physicians not question why patients who seemed to be on the mend died suddenly? How is it that Mays was identified as a suspect and fired from the hospital two years ago? Should safeguards have been in place to keep Mays from “acting outside the scope of her employment?”

These and other questions about whether murders at the hospital could have been prevented need to be answered. If that does not occur during the course of lawsuits against the VA, it should through hearings in Congress.

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