Veteran turned away from VA after requesting mental treatment, kills himself

(left) Brandon Ketchum as a color guard at the Hult Center in Peoria, IL during a speech by a former Navy SEAL. (right) Brandon visiting is father's grave. (Facebook)

An Iowa family is demanding answers after their 33-year-old veteran committed suicide last Thursday, following his being denied admittance to a VA psychiatric ward.

Marine and Army National Guard veteran Brandon Ketchum took his own life less than one day after being denied treatment at the Iowa City VA Medical Center, where he had requested admittance for “serious mental issues.”

“I requested that I get admitted to 9W (psych ward) and get things straightened out,” he wrote on Facebook hours before committing suicide. “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.”

According to WKOW, Ketchum had described himself as someone who “came home from war, only to be lost in the fog of another war, a war within myself.” His family members and loved ones say they had watched him struggle with PTSD, as well as painkiller -and later- heroin addiction.

Brothers Bradley (left) and Brandon Ketchum with their father William (center). (Facebook)
Brothers Bradley (left) and Brandon Ketchum with their father William (center). (Facebook)

“He had relapsed and was abusing drugs and he just was in a bad place,” said Kristine Nichols, Ketchum’s live-in girlfriend of three years, who watched his downward spiral in the town of Davenport. “He had asked me if I thought he should get inpatient (treatment) and I told him, you know, if he felt that he needed to.”

Ketchum drove over an hour to the VA Hospital, where he had been working with the same psychiatrist for over a year.

“It wasn’t like a new person. He (the psychiatrist) knows Brandon’s history, he knew he was flagged for suicide with the VA,” said Nichols. “At least two occasions in the past three years he’s been flagged for suicide.”

However, the doctor inexplicably refused to admit Ketchum.

“I never, ever thought he would ever do this….ever,” said Ketchum’s mother, Beverly Kittoe, whose two sons both served in the Iraq.

Brandon’s brother, Bradley Ketchum, said his brother -who did two tours of duty as a combat engineer and helped conduct route clearance operations- saw more combat and thus was more affected by war.

Brandon and Bradley Ketchum (Facebook)
Brandon and Bradley Ketchum (Facebook)

“And you know, after so many hits, how much of that can you take?,” asked Kittoe, who said Brandon experienced several explosions. “So he ended up with TBIs, traumatic brain injuries, and concussions.”

Despite having a rough experience in the Marines, the late Ketchum later joined the National Guard and did a tour in Afghanistan.

With all the sacrifices he made for his country, Ketchum’s family is left wondering why the Iowa City VA couldn’t return the favor.

“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?,” Kittoe said.

“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?,’ asked Nichols. “Because, them second-guessing him led to this.”

Iowa Falls VA Hospital PAO Jamie Johnson was asked if Ketchum was turned away for lack of room at the facility, she said it was unlikely.

“Generally speaking, I can tell you that we do not have a wait list for beds,” Johnson wrote in an email. “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.”

The response comes as a hard blow to Ketchum’s family, who are in the process of requesting all of his VA medical records to find out why he was denied treatment last Thursday.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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