Veteran found strangled at Florida VA facility, roommate charged

Christopher Schweikart is charged with first-degree murder.
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West Palm Beach VA Medical Center
The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)

A patient in a VA psychiatric care unit in Florida is charged with strangling his roommate, who was found dead in their shared bathroom on March 16, court records say.

Christopher Schweikart has been charged with first-degree murder after he allegedly told nurses and investigators that he strangled his roommate in the bathroom at West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida. The victim was not identified in a criminal complaint filed by a special agent with the VA’s Office of the Inspector General, or VA OIG.

 “I killed the guy,” Schweikart allegedly told a nurse, according to the criminal complaint, “I put my hands around his neck.”

If convicted, Schweikart could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or death, according to the criminal complaint, which Task & Purpose obtained through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER system.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of a Veteran at our facility on March 16 — our thoughts and condolences are with the Veteran’s loved ones,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told Task & Purpose on Thursday. “We immediately notified the Office of Inspector General of this tragic incident and are fully cooperating with the investigation. Because this investigation is ongoing, we cannot comment further at this time — and we refer all questions to the authorities leading the investigation.”

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The Palm Beach Post first reported that Schweikart had been charged with the death of his roommate.

Two VA OIG agents arrived at the hospital about 5:21 a.m. on March 16 after a veteran being treated in the psychiatric care unit had been found unresponsive in a shared bathroom between two adjoining rooms, court records say. Medical staff were unable to revive the veteran, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

An autopsy conducted later by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office revealed that the veteran had injuries consistent with being strangled, the criminal complaint says.

The agents found a Bible in the bathroom that VA staff told them had been lying on the floor next to the veteran’s body, court records say. Inside the Bible was a handwritten inscription that read: “God, I have lived a good life. Take me home.”

Agents also found a Bible with Schweikart’s name written on Schweikart’s nightstand and a black ink pen on his bed, the criminal complaint says. Inside Schweikart’s Bible was a separate note with a person’s name and phone number written on it. The note appeared to be written in the same handwriting as the inscription in the other Bible found in the bathroom.
A VA nurse told investigators that Schweikart had told her something to the effect of: “I just want to die. I want to do so bad. I killed the guy. I put my hands around his neck. He wanted to die.”

During a roughly 5-minute interview with VA OIG agents, Schweikart recalled how he and the veteran had been talking about Vietnam and then Schweikart went into the bathroom, court records say.

When the agents told Schweikart that he could end the interview at any time, he replied, “I can’t lie,” according to the criminal complaint.

Schweikart told investigators that the veteran had startled him after he walked into the bathroom, and then he strangled the veteran. Schweikart then asked for a lawyer, marking the end of the interview.

Afterward, Schweikart provided a different version of what had happened to a VA nurse, according to court records. Once again, Schweikart said that he had killed the veteran, and he expressed remorse for doing so.

Schweikart told the nurse that he had startled the victim from behind and strangled him with both hands, the criminal complaint says.

“Schweikart said that when the victim had no more life in him, Schweikart tried to adjust the victim on the toilet so that it would not look so obvious,” the criminal complaint says. “After strangling the victim, Schweikart said that he went back into his room and laid on his bed.”

In 2019, another veteran, Army Sgt. Brieux Dash, died by suicide at the same VA medical center. An investigation uncovered several problems at the hospital, such as that its cameras to monitor Dash and other at-risk patients had not worked for at least three years.

Dash’s family filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for his death and eventually reached a $5.75 million settlement.

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