What happens when the only place you are meant to rely on for medical care shuts the door in your face because they don’t think you need the care you admit to needing? Are you not supposed to trust your own body? Your own mind? What if you can’t trust your own mind, and that’s why you need the care in the first place? What if the only visible door between one fatal decision and another is the one that just slammed, leaving you but two options?
This is what former Marine and Army National Guard soldier Brandon Ketchum experienced over the summer. While we were all enjoying our vacation away from classes, Brandon was fighting PTSD, relapsing into addictive self-treatment with pain killers and heroin.
When at last he thought that he was at a point of no return, he decided to drive from his home in Davenport to the VA hospital in Iowa City, to put himself into the psychiatric center because of severe suicidal thoughts. A psychiatrist with the VA, one that Brandon had seen numerous times before, decided that the situation wasn’t as dire as Brandon said and turned him away.
The 33-year-old killed himself hours later.
Being a reasonable person and wanting to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I assume that there is a protocol in VA psychiatry for this scenario. I assume that there is some sort of risk assessment conducted to ensure that the individual is truly at risk of inflicting self-harm and that the doctors are not being pulled away from other patients or duties.
But if a grown man who has endured three combat tours steps out of his comfort zone, leaves his pride in the dust behind him and willingly admits that he needs help – something that the VA themselves tell veterans to do – should he not be taken as seriously as possible? If a man or woman sacrifices such a large part of his or her life to aid in the efforts of his or her nation’s fights, shouldn’t we then as a nation, at the very least, give him or her aid in their own fight?
We all have heard about the myriad of issues at VA facilities across the nation, and if you haven’t, stop reading this and hop on the internet to inform yourself. There are veterans who face apathy, incompetency, bureaucratic red-tape, and pure idiocy when dealing with the VA on a daily basis. I personally know veterans who have been waiting decades for care or benefits that they need; they’ve been getting the run around from the government that used them for their service and is now reneging on their promise to return the favor. Not only does our government ignore and add to the monetary debt of our nation, they ignore some of the debts that they owe to our service men and women.
People like Brandon Ketchum shouldn’t be turned away like some ragged vagabond at a five-star restaurant; they should be treated like a VIP and given priority service.
I want you to think about Brandon the next time you vote; the next time you write your congressman; the next time you talk politics in family or professional circles. Talk to veterans that you know – we have plenty on campus – see what their experiences with the VA have been, see what they think could be improved.