Late Marine 'Had the Biggest Heart,' Says Mom After Congress Introduces Veterans Bill Named After Him

Sean Neumann
·4 min read

Brandon Ketchum/ Facebook Brandon Ketchum

The family of veteran Brandon Ketchum, who died by suicide in 2016, says a new bill named after him could help other rural service-members struggling to acclimate back to life in the U.S.

The "Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans' Mental Health Act" was introduced earlier this week by Iowa lawmakers and is being discussed Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Beverly Kittoe, Ketchum's mother, told The Des Moines Register that she was proud the bipartisan proposal was named in honor of her late son.

"This is something that maybe will help someone," Kittoe said. "Even if it's just one person."

Ketchum was 33 when he killed himself after being denied inpatient treatment at a local Veterans Affairs hospital to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms, as well as a drug addiction.

Longtime Register reporter Tony Leys chronicled Ketchum's experience and treatment after returning from the Iraq War. That 2016 profile highlighted what the former Marine described in private notes as "a war within myself."

The latest Veterans Affairs data shows more than 17 military veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S. and 6,435 veterans died by suicide in 2018, the latest year with data available.

Ketchum returned to the U.S. after an injury during his third deployment in 2010 but he struggled to maintain jobs, schooling and relationships with family, according to the Register profile.

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Brandon Ketchum/ facebook Brandon Ketchum (left)

In 2014, he told a group of students that, for so long, his comfort zone was "being behind a rifle or being in a big armored vehicle," something he struggled to get past as a veteran.

"Being home, walking down the street, going shopping, staying at my house — that was well outside my comfort zone," he said, according to the Register. "I missed the battlefield more and more, and that consumed my mind."

In mid-2016, Ketchum relapsed in his heroin use and told members of his mental health team that he was severely depressed. That July, he told his psychiatrist that he wanted to receive inpatient care but was denied.

According to the Register, who reviewed the psychiatrist's notes from his sessions with Ketchum, the VA doctor said inpatient treatment rooms were full at the time and that the official thought Ketchum could be treated as an outpatient.

"Not only did I get a NO, but three reasons of no based (on) me not being 'f----- up enough,' " Ketchum wrote on a veterans' Facebook support page, according to the Register. "They gave up on me, so why shouldn't I give up on myself?"

Ketchum left his meeting with his psychiatrist abruptly before posting his message on Facebook and texting his mom that the VA had "blood" on its hands.

Hours later, he died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home.

Ketchum is survived by his daughter Layla.

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From left: Kristine Nichols and boyfriend Brandon Ketchum

"Brandon had the biggest heart," his mother told the Register this week, after the bill named in his honor was introduced. "He always made sure others got what they needed before he got anything for himself."

Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa, introduced the proposal.

The legislation would set aside $1.2 million each year to support three new teams of VA workers who would provide support for veterans living in rural areas. The proposal would also call on the federal government to study how to better care for veterans living in rural areas, like Ketchum, who suffer from PTSD symptoms.

"Veterans like Sgt. Ketchum put their lives on the line and serve our nation with honor," Axne, 55, said in a statement. "When they come home, they should be able to receive the care they need regardless of their zip code."

The bill was introduced with bipartisan support, though it's unclear how quickly it might move through Congress.

"Sergeant Ketchum's tragic story is too common among veterans, especially those in rural areas who may have a harder time accessing mental health services," Rep. Ashley Hinson, an Iowa Republican, wrote in a statement.

"This legislation, introduced in his honor, will help increase access to mental health services for veterans and ensure those who served our country have the support they need and deserve once they return home," she added.

If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.