Congressional lawmakers are calling for answers after a Veteran Affairs patient was found strangled this month in the psychiatric ward of a medical center in Florida.

Federal agents believe that the unidentified patient at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center was killed by his roommate, Christopher Schweikart, who confessed to strangling the victim but gave conflicting reasons for why, according to court records.

The man was found dead March 16, according to a federal criminal complaint. Schweikart, 33, faces a first-degree murder charge and if found guilty could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

“It is profoundly troubling that such a tragic event could occur within the walls of a facility meant to provide care and support to our nation’s veterans,” Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Rep. Brian Mast said in a Thursday letter to Denis McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The letter calls for a thorough investigation and leadership changes at the West Palm Beach VA hospital.

The victim was found next to a Bible with a handwritten inscription in black ink saying, “God, I have lived a good life, take me home,” according to an affidavit filed by an agent for the VA Inspector General.

But agents said the handwriting in the Bible matches Schweikart’s. A second Bible on his nightstand had similar handwriting and his name written inside, the affidavit said. Agents also found a black ink pen on Schweikart’s bed.

Surveillance videos do not show any other patient entering their shared room that night, the affidavit said.

Schweikart told two agents with the Department of Veterans Affairs that his roommate was talking about Vietnam and then entered their shared bathroom. Schweikart said this startled him, so he strangled his roommate, according to the affidavit.

He later told a nurse a similar but conflicting account of how he walked in on his roommate and surprised him before strangling him, the affidavit said.

Schweikart had his first appearance in federal court last week and was denied bail, court records show.

The VA medical center in West Palm Beach faced criticism in 2019 after a Veterans Affairs investigation found shortcomings in patient safety at the facility, including years of use of security cameras that didn’t work.

The 2019 report came after the suicide of an Army veteran, Brieux Dash, at the facility. In June 2023, Dash’s family reached a $5.75 million settlement with the U.S. government, The Washington Post reported.

The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Florida, where on March 16, 2024, a patient was found strangled to death.

The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Florida, where on March 16, 2024, a patient was found strangled to death. (Department of Veterans Affairs)

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J.P. Lawrence reports on the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2017. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School and Bard College and is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.

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