Iowa veteran’s suicide inspires new VA mental health care law in his honor

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Brandon Ketchum hoped to receive mental health care when he visited Iowa City’s VA hospital in 2016. He was turned away, and he died by suicide hours later at just 33 years old.

The Davenport native’s death inspired the Sgt. Brandon Ketchum Rural Mental Health Act, which was signed into law this week.

Ketchum’s mother, Bev Kittoe, hopes it prevents any other veterans from taking their own lives.

“They’re normal people and they have all of these emotions, but sometimes they don’t want to show these emotions and think they have to toughen up,” Kittoe said. “I respect that Brandon kept it away from me, but I wish he could have opened up to help him better.”

The new law mandates the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand its mental health care centers into rural areas and report the quality of the VA’s mental health services to Congress within the next 18 months.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa and was supported by all of the state’s federal lawmakers.

“This ensures that our veterans, no matter what zip code they’re in, can get acclimated back into their community,” Axne said.

Kittoe believes her son’s death will help other veterans find a second chance at life.

“I hope they reach out to other veterans and don’t just try to suck these issues up,” Kittoe said. “We’ll see how it goes from here, but it’s good that this is happening.”

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