The family of Marine Sgt. Brandon Ketchum, 33, is asking why a VA doctor in Iowa City did not admit him to a psychiatric ward when he requested care. With his request denied, Ketchum committed suicide last Friday.
“He had relapsed and was abusing drugs and he just was in a bad place,” Ketchum’s girlfriend Kristine Nichols told WKOW News. She was beside him as he struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for years, following two tours in Iraq with the Marines, and a deployment to Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard.
According to mom Beverly Kittoe and his brother Brad, who also served in Iraq, Brandon’s duty clearing roadside explosives as a Marine engineer in Iraq took a heavy toll on him. By his own count, he survived five “hard hits,” or explosions, in Iraq and was injured during another bomb blast during his tour in Afghanistan.
“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,” his mother said. Ketchum nevertheless joined the Army National Guard after four years with the Marines and was eventually sent to Afghanistan.
His drug problem began with the painkillers he was given after surgery. According to his writings, he was still experiencing considerable pain but wanted to get away from prescription drugs, having nearly died from an overdose in 2015.
According to Kristine Nichols, Ketchum asked her if she thought he should seek inpatient treatment last Thursday, and she said yes if he felt it was necessary. He then went to the Iowa City VA Medical Center and asked for admission to the psychiatric ward because he was dealing with “serious mental issues.”
The family is asking why the VA psychiatrist, who had been working with Ketchum for over a year, refused to admit him… even though he had been flagged as a suicide risk at least twice over the past three years.
Ketchum described his rejection in a Facebook post to fellow veterans, reproduced more fully at the IllegallyHealed blog:
Have any of you had a similar situation to my VA shitsh0w today? I went in to see my psych doc for an emergency appt due to some serious mental health issues I’ve been having. I requested that I get admitted to 9W 9psych 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 not being ‘fucked up enough.’ I wish I were making this up, but I’m sure I’m not alone. 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. Insight and/or advice welcome. Tell it as it is, I’m thick skinned.
Within hours of writing that post, Ketchum fatally shot himself.
“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?” Beverly Kittoe asked. Nichols accused the VA of “second-guessing” Ketchum’s decision to ask for inpatient care.
WKOW News asked the Iowa City VA Medical Center if Ketchum was denied due to a lack of available beds. A spokesman denied this was the reason, which made his family even more upset that he was turned away. The Center has refused most other comment on the case, citing privacy laws, but Nichols and Kittoe are trying to obtain Ketchum’s medical records to get some hard answers.
The milblogger at IllegallyHealed, who has survived similar battles with PTSD and controlled substances, is furious at the VA for turning Ketchum away: “The running joke in Veteran circles is that the VA is trying to kill us. I don’t laugh that off anymore. Feels too true.”
A follow-up report from WKOW News indicates that a fellow Marine who served with Brandon Ketchum, Chris Kemp, is seeking to establish a non-profit institution to help veterans with PTSD, using land his family owns in Texas. Kemp says the facility will be named “Ketchum’s House” in Brandon’s honor.
“I wanted to do something to help, to help the broader issue, but I couldn’t think of anything, I couldn’t come up with a way. And then when this happened with Brandon it just… everything clicked together,” said Kemp. “I want to get families and veterans together in nature, like camping outside where they can get together and talk.”
“To see that he went to the VA and they denied him help is just infuriating,” he added, expressing confidence that Ketchum would still be alive if he had been admitted for inpatient treatment.
WKOW also reports that Iowa City’s congressman, Rep. Dave Loebsack, has been in contact with the Iowa City VA Medical Center and is “working with them to gather all the details.”