MADISON (WKOW) — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) joined both of Iowa’s U.S. senators in asking the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Veterans Affairs to review the case of a Wisconsin Dells native who committed suicide July 8, one day after allegedly being denied inpatient treatment at the Iowa City VA Medical Center.
27 News first reported on the death of Brandon Ketchum July 12, after family members said he was denied admittance to the Iowa City VA psychiatric ward. They believe Brandon’s death could have been prevented if his VA psychiatrist had admitted him.
“On July 7, 2016, Brandon Ketchum, a veteran of the Marine Corps and Army National Guard, found himself at a crisis point, believing himself to be a threat to his own safety and sought the assistance of the Iowa City VA Medical Center. Despite his year-long treatment with a psychiatrist at the facility that knew of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as repeated flags for suicide over the last three years, his request to be admitted to the psychiatric ward due to what he termed ‘serious mental issues,’ was reportedly denied. Mr. Ketchum took his own life just over 24 hours later,” Sen. Johnson, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to VA Inspector General Michael Missal.
“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 changes to VA policy, if applicable,” the letter continues.
“He had relapsed and was abusing drugs and he just was in a bad place,” Kristine Nichols told 27 News on July 12.
Nichols was Brandon’s girlfriend of three years who lived with him in Davenport, Iowa.
Nichols said she watched Brandon struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions – first to painkillers, and then heroin.
“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,” Nichols said of her conversation with Ketchum last Thursday.
So Brandon drove to the Iowa City VA Medical Center where he had seen the same psychiatrist for over a year, according to Nichols.
He asked to be admitted to the psychiatric ward, due to what he called “serious mental issues.”
“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.”
But Kristine said the psychiatrist refused to admit Brandon, for reasons that remain unclear at this point. A public affairs officer for the Iowa VA Medical Center said they could not comment on Ketchum’s case due to privacy laws.
But Brandon expressed outrage about being turned away on Facebook less than 24 hours later.
“I requested that I get admitted to 9W (psych 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,” wrote Ketchum. “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.”
The senators urged the OIG to look into whether Ketchum’s case is an isolated incident, “how often veterans seeking inpatient mental health care are turned away, and how often this leads to adverse consequences.”
Speaking to reporters in Green Bay Tuesday, Sen. Johnson said his role as chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs allows him to ask tough questions of the VA.
“The vast majority of people working there are working hard, you know, honoring those promises to our service members but we still have bad actors and there’s still a lot of problems that only the light of day shining on them is going to really solve, so, that’s really my role is the watchdog of the watchdogs,” said Sen. Johnson.
“I’m very appreciative of that and hope that something is going to actually happen instead of just him being another statistic and you know, waiting for the next one to happen,” Beverly Kittoe, Ketchum’s mother, told 27 News Tuesday.
Ketchum’s girlfriend, Kristine Nichols, told 27 News she is actually meeting with OIG representatives in Iowa City this Friday, but a spokesperson for the Inspector General would not confirm that.
The senators asked IG Missal for a response to their request by Tuesday, August 16.