Only a few hours after Brandon Ketchum, 33, a former Marine and Army National Guardsmen who suffered from PTSD, was denied admittance to a VA facility in Iowa City, he killed himself.
On July 7, Ketchum had an emergency appointment at the Iowa City VA Medical Center, where he told doctors he was having “serious mental issues.” Ketchum had served three tours overseas; twice in Iraq as a Marine combat engineer clearing roadside explosives and once in Afghanistan in the Army National Guard. Because of several explosions, Ketchum had Traumatic Brain Injuries(TBI’s) and concussions.
Once he returned to the United States, Ketchum suffered from PTSD, turning to painkillers and finally turning to heroin to ease his anguish.
After he was rejected by the hospital on July 7, Ketchum wrote on Facebook:
I requested that I get admitted to 9W (psychiatric ward) and get things straightened out. I truly felt my safety and health were in jeopardy, as I discussed with the doc. Not only did I get a ‘NO’, but three reasons of no based on me being not f***** up enough. At this point I say, “why even try anymore?” They gave up on me, so why shouldn’t I give up on myself? Right now, that is the only viable option given my circumstances and frame of mind.
Ketchum’s girlfriend, Kristine Nichols, said his July 7 visit at the hospital was with the same psychiatrist who had consulted him for over a year. She told WKOW, “It wasn’t like a new person. He (the psychiatrist) knows Brandon’s history, he knew he was flagged for suicide with the VA. At least two occasions in the past three years he’s been flagged for suicide.”
Jamie Johnson, the public affairs officer for the Iowa City VA Medical Center, emailed WKOW, “Generally speaking, I can tell you that we do not have a wait list for beds. If we have openings and a patient requires admission they are admitted. If a patient requires admission and we do not have beds available at our facility, we would find them a bed at another facility.”
Ketchum’s brother, Brad, also served in Iraq, but he said Brandon saw more combat and was more damaged as a result.
Brandon Ketchum’s mother, Beverly Kittoe, told WKOW, “And you know, after so many hits, how much of that can you take? So he ended up with TBIs, traumatic brain injuries, and concussions.” She asked, “If he was asking for help and if he had been there, if he had gotten their help before, why, why was he turned away?”
“Not only did I get a ‘NO’, but three reasons of no based on me being not f***** up enough. At this point I say, ‘why even try anymore?'”
Nichols added, “Would it have hurt them so bad to say, ‘OK, we’ll trust you and let’s just do what you think is best for you and get you in here? Because, them second-guessing him led to this.”
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, sent letters to Judith Johnson-Mekota, director of the Iowa City VA Health Care System, and Robert McDonald, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, asking what had gone wrong. Later, Republican U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin sent a letter to Michael Missal, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, stating, “In light of what has transpired, we strongly urge your office to examine the facts and circumstances of Mr. Ketchum’s interactions with the Iowa City VA Medical Center on July 7, 2016, to determine what, if any, steps can be taken in the future to better protect our veteran population, including potential change to VA policy, if applicable.”