VA watchdog confirms circumstances of Iowa vet's suicide will be reviewed

Vet's mom: Doctor says sergeant left appointment, didn't return call

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General said Thursday it will review the death of Sgt. Brandon Ketchum, a Davenport veteran who committed suicide July 8 after he was reportedly denied admittance to the Iowa City VA Medical Center.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said the office will “make every effort to share whatever information (it) can in accordance with applicable law” upon the review’s completion.

The investigation comes after Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Dave Loebsack wrote to the Inspector General’s Office, urging it to look into the care Ketchum, 33, got before his death.

“This is a good example of why we have independent watchdogs at federal agencies,” Grassley said in a statement. “Inspectors general review agency work and point out problems that need to be fixed or confirm that policies and procedures are fine as is.”

Ernst echoed those comments, adding Ketchum’s death “underscores how critical it is that every veteran is receiving quality and timely care from the VA.”

Ketchum’s death gained attention after he posted a message on Facebook saying he went to the hospital July 7 seeking help, only to be told to go home and take his medication.

His mother, Bev Kittoe, told The Gazette on Thursday that Ketchum’s doctor told her during a sit-down with VA officials over the weekend that Ketchum did not say he was suicidal during the July 7 visit.

The VA psychiatrist told Kittoe, of Baraboo, Wis., that he met with Ketchum for about 10 minutes that day.

“Brandon really didn’t say he was suicidal, so the doctor didn’t feel inpatient was an option,” Kittoe said.

Although such doctor visits often include a questionnaire asking patients if they are in danger of harming themselves, the doctor told Ketchum’s family Ketchum left before they got to that point.

“Brandon was there for 10 minutes and didn’t like what the doctor had to say about not being admitted and got up and left,” Kittoe said.

The doctor left a voicemail for Ketchum the afternoon of July 7 saying that although he didn’t plan to admit Ketchum, he wanted to talk with his patient about other options. He left another message July 8, not knowing Ketchum had committed suicide.

The doctor’s account of the story, as related by Ketchum’s mother, is slightly different from what Ketchum posted on Facebook.

In that July 7 post, he wrote he was seeking assistance because he believed he was a threat to his own safety.

Ketchum’s girlfriend, Kristine Nichols, told The Gazette earlier this month that Ketchum was seeking help at the VA for substance abuse. He had been addicted to painkillers and, later, heroin, Nichols said.

Ketchum had previously been hospitalized at the VA to detox and then was transferred to a private facility, she said.

The family plans to request Ketchum’s redacted medical records to try to learn more about his treatment at the VA, Kittoe said. The Iowa City VA has also offered to meet again with the family if the family wants that, she said.

“We may never really understand what happened to Brandon,” she said.

Iowa City VA Hospital spokesman Jon Pruett said meeting with VA families is a top priory.

“It’s absolutely important,” he said. “Every vet is a huge contribution to society. Their families have a right to be informed.”

Two Iowa events will recognize Ketchum next month, Kittoe said. There will be a celebration of his life Sept. 3 in Iowa City and a Sept. 11 car show and benefit in Lowden will raise money, in part, for Ketchum’s 4-year-old daughter, Layla.

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