Finally, some belatedly good news for Brandon Ketchum: Iowa's two U.S. senators and another from Wisconsin are among those asking for an official review of Brandon's visit to the Iowa City VA Medical Center the day before he committed suicide.
Brandon, 33, of Davenport, posted a note to Facebook just hours before killing himself on July 8. He wrote that he had been desperate for help and asked to be admitted into the psychiatric unit but was turned away.
"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," reads a portion of the letter to Inspector General Michael J. Missal. "It is also important for policymakers within the VA and in Congress to know if this is an isolated incident, how often veterans seeking inpatient mental health care are turned away, and how often this leads to adverse consequences."
The letter is signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Brandon was a native of Wisconsin. Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy, Vermont, and Thomas R. Carper, Delaware, also signed the letter.
Brandon served with the Marine Corps and the Army via the Iowa National Guard. He was twice deployed to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. His obituary attributed Brandon's death to having "lost his battle with PTSD."
His partner, Kristine Nichols, also 33, along with his brother, Brad Ketchum, also a veteran, vowed to get to the bottom of what happened in Iowa City on July 7.
I told his story in a column on July 24, quoting Nichols, the Ketchum family, fellow veterans and the VA in Iowa City. Because of privacy laws, officials from the VA could not comment specifically on Brandon's case.
Nichols said her partner of three years had previously been treated in Iowa City and other VA centers. In his Facebook lament about his failure to receive treatment the day before his death, Brandon wrote, "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."
In the letter to the inspector general, the senators' words suggest they are familiar with Brandon's account of his final plea for help: “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."
Dated Tuesday, the letter to Missal asks for a response by Aug. 16, adding, "... inform us whether you have decided to open an inquiry into the matter. If not, please explain why not. If an inquiry is opened, we further request that you provide updates on its status, when appropriate."
The congressional contact listed on the letter is a staffer with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
No one expects this action to make Nichols or Brad Ketchum or anyone else feel any better about Brandon's terrible death. But Brandon wanted his life to mean something. He said as much in his final text messages and other notes. His brother has said that making the VA a better place for suffering veterans might help accomplish Brandon's dying wish.
And now there is hope that it will.