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DIGGING DEEPER: Could the VA have done more to prevent the suicide of a Wisconsin Dells native?

WISCONSIN DELLS (WKOW) — The family of a 33 year-old military veteran from Sauk County believes his suicide could have been prevented if a VA doctor in his new home state of Iowa had granted his plea for admittance to a psychiatric ward.

His loved ones are now seeking answers.

"I came home from war, only to be lost in the fog of another war, a war within myself," read Brad Ketchum Monday afternoon, as he sat among grieving family members in his mother’s home.

But those are not Brad’s words. They were written by his older brother Brandon Ketchum, a veteran of the Marines and Army National Guard who found himself at a crisis point last Thursday.

"He had relapsed and was abusing drugs and he just was in a bad place," said Kristine Nichols, 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."

Brandon Ketchum took his own life just hours later.

"I never, ever thought he would ever do this….ever," said Brandon’s mother, Beverly Kittoe, as she fought to hold back tears.

Kittoe is very proud of her boys dedication to their country. In front of Beverly’s home sits a small area dedicated to both of her sons and their military service. 

Both Brandon and Brad served in Iraq, but Brad is the first to admit Brandon saw more combat and came back far more shattered.

Brandon served two tours of duty as a combat engineer in the Marines. His duty was to help clear roadside explosives. The job took its toll both mentally and physically.

"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 that, after four years in the Marines, Brandon joined the Army National Guard and did another tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His mother now wants to know – after giving so much to his country – why Brandon couldn’t get the help he was seeking last week.
"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?," asked Beverly.

"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."

Among the questions 27 News asked Jamie Johnson, public affairs officer for the Iowa City VA Medical Center, was whether Brandon Ketchum might have been turned away due to a lack of beds at the facility.

"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."

Both Kristine Nichols and Beverly Kittoe said that made them even more upset, because there clearly would have been room for Brandon in the psychiatric ward.

They are in the process of requesting all of Brandon’s VA medical records to find out why he was denied inpatient treatment last Thursday.

27 News will continue to follow this story.


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