State of Mind Episode 2: Hidden battles

CBS Evening News Uncharted: State of Mind” is a new five-part digital series airing in May with new episodes released every Wednesday. The series will examine the state of mental health care in America in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month. More than 43 million Americans suffer from mental illness.

A mother’s grief

“I have a hole in my heart that is awful … I never thought this would ever happen until you lose a child. You just can’t imagine what happens,” Beverly Kittoe explains while trying to hold back tears.

“It’s hard for me to want to do things and see people. It’s awful, it’s awful.”

On July 8, 2016, her son Brandon Ketchum took his life after being turned away from the VA Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa.

Brandon served in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008, the height of the Iraq War. He missed serving his country after being discharged, so he joined the Army National Guard not long after.

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While serving in the National Guard, he was injured and evacuated to Germany; He ended up having a seizure, and after a lot of testing he was diagnosed with PTSD. When he finally returned to civilian life he clearly wasn’t the same man, according to Beverly.

The National Center for PTSD says that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD in a given year.

“On July 7 he went to the VA and asked to be admitted. He asked to be admitted to the psych ward and they told him no, that the beds were full and that he needed to go home and take his medication,” Beverly said.

Ketchum family

Brandon was discovered by his girlfriend the next day. “My boyfriend shot himself. He’s already dead,” she told the 911 dispatcher. He was discovered surrounded by photos of him and his young daughter.

According to a 2014 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day, and approximately 66 percent of all veteran deaths from suicide were the result of firearm injuries.

Beverly says she’s angry that the VA didn’t do what they were supposed to do to support her son in his hour of need. “When you ask for help, when you ask to be admitted to the psychiatric unit, what’s it going to hurt? Let them put them there for 24 hours or 48 hours until they can find a place to send them. That’s my main concern over this: When you ask for help give them help. That’s the least they can do for our veterans,” she said.

“That the approach or the impact of when people are coming back from conflict is — not just on that service member but on the entire family. And so I totally understand how difficult situations are,” said Dr. David Shulkin, the U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs, when CBS News asked about Brandon’s case.

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