Not only has spring come and gone, but it's been nearly a year since Sgt. Brandon Ketchum succumbed to his PTSD.
The 33-year-old Davenport veteran, who served two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, shot himself hours after asking to be admitted to the psychiatric unit at the VA hospital in Iowa City. He was told there was no room for him.
Iowa's U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, and Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, demanded a review of Brandon's hospital visit by the VA's Office of Inspector General. That was in August.
In November, Inspector General Michael J. Missal told Ernst he expected the review to be completed by spring. It didn't happen.
Asked this week about the delayed report, Ernst replied via email:
“The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General said we should expect a final report on the investigation in July. While I am disappointed the VA OIG was not able to deliver the report in the spring, given the gravity of this situation, I want to ensure this investigation is as thorough as possible.
"I have written several letters to the VA and VA OIG, regarding the death of Brandon Ketchum. It’s critical that we receive these reports as quickly as possible in order to move swiftly and correct any flaws to prevent future tragedies. I intend to continue closely monitoring Mr. Ketchum’s case and have requested to be briefed on the situation just as soon as the investigation concludes."
Herself a veteran, Ernst has done as promised, repeatedly reminding the Inspector General that Congress is waiting.
Loebsack has been in there swinging, too, and co-sponsored namesake legislation, "Brandon Ketchum Never Again Act." The bill seeks to require VA medical centers to provide in-patient psychiatric treatment to any veteran who asks for it.
“As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sgt. Ketchum’s tragic death, there are still more questions than answers," Loebsack wrote in an email this week. "While all due diligence must be made to get the facts correct, I am beyond frustrated with the amount of time this report has taken. Sgt. Ketchum's family, fellow soldiers and the community deserve closure. The public deserves to know the answers to exactly what happened that day, and it is beyond time that it be released.”
Everybody knows the VA is swimming in crises. With an estimated 20 veterans committing suicide every single day, the agency most taxed with helping thousands of veterans deal with their PTSD obviously is struggling to do so. From the time Brandon died to the first anniversary of his death next month, an estimated 7,300 veterans will have killed themselves. That is thousands more veterans than soldiers who died in the War on Terror.
"OIG’s work regarding this case is ongoing, and we are working diligently to complete our review and publish the final report," Missal spokesman Michael Nacincik wrote Tuesday in response to my questions about the review. "We expect the final report to be available later this summer."
We've established that the VA and its Office of Inspector General are exceedingly busy — perhaps even overwhelmed. We know members of Congress have been nipping at their heels, and we know Brandon's family has been waiting for nearly a year to find out what went wrong and why he was turned away at his most vulnerable moment.
But one thing left to consider that really only makes matters worse is this: The July 7 appointment with Dr. Anthony Miller at the VA hospital in Iowa City lasted mere minutes. Even though records clearly show the doctor knew about Brandon's calls to the suicide hotline, knew he was increasingly depressed, had PTSD and asked to be admitted, he was sent away.
How long can it possibly take to figure out that was wrong?