Biden calls Iowa mom after signing VA mental health bill named for son


Beverly Kittoe was working in her hair salon on Wednesday when she got an unexpected call from Washington, DC. She didn’t recognize the number, but decided to answer.

The appellant was a White House staff member. The staff member asked if Kittoe could take a few minutes to speak to President Joe Biden about his son, Iowa National Guard veteran Brandon Ketchum.

Yes, Kittoe replied. Of course she could.

The president had just signed a bill named in honor of Ketchum, who died by suicide in 2016. The bill, co-sponsored by the four Iowa members in the US House of Representatives, aims to improve access to VA mental health services for rural veterans.

Biden came on the phone, thanked Kittoe for his son’s service, and offered his condolences.

“He said he was really sorry and hoped to meet me someday,” said Kittoe, who lives in Baraboo, Wis.

Brandon Ketchum’s mother touched by President Biden’s appeal

The president told Kittoe he understands his family’s pain. He noted that he also lost a son who was an Iraq War veteran, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. Biden said he hoped the new law would help other veterans. .

Kittoe said she was touched by the president’s appeal and his signing on the bill, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to put in place three new teams to improve mental health care outside of cities. The program is described as being for rural veterinarians, who under federal rules would include those living in much of Iowa.

The new law also requires federal officials to study mental health services provided in rural areas and recommend improvements.

Kittoe’s voice broke with emotion on Wednesday as she spoke in a phone interview about the effort. She said America continues to see too many veterans suffer trauma from their war experiences that they commit suicide.

“I hope it helps someone else, so that another mother and another father don’t have to go through what we’ve been through,” she said. “I am so grateful that this bill has passed.”

She said she was proud that members of Congress in Iowa attached her son’s name to the effort.

“Putting a name on an invoice is so important. It’s so much better than a simple number, because what is a number? ” she said. She hopes strangers will see the name “Brandon Ketchum” and turn to the internet to find out more about her son.

What happened to Brandon Ketchum?

Ketchum, 33, was a veteran of the Marine Corps and Iowa National Guard, who completed two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction, for which he sought treatment. In July 2016, he went to the Iowa City VA Hospital, where he requested to be admitted. A psychiatrist determined that hospital care was not necessary for Ketchum, who then left the facility and returned home to Davenport.

That night he committed suicide.

An investigation by a VA inspector general later revealed that hospital staff were not directly responsible for the death. But Ketchum’s family and supporters said the tragedy highlighted gaps in the system for helping struggling veterans.

A previous bill named for Ketchum was not passed after then Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa introduced it several years ago. The new bill was led by U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa who took office in 2019.

“I am so proud that my first stand-alone bill enacted by this Congress is one that honors the service of an Iowa hero – Sergeant Brandon Ketchum – and recognizes the need to stand behind our veterans’ backs when ‘they go home, no matter where they live. “she said in a statement on Wednesday.

Signs of trouble, where to get mental health help

Experts say these are common signs of mental health issues:

  • Insomnia
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Lethargy or loss of interest in any activity
  • Self-isolation from friends and relatives
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Family conflicts or problems finishing school work or homework
  • Thoughts of harming or killing yourself

Several options are available for quick access to mental health help.

  • Veterans in Crisis can call 800-273-8255 or visit online.
  • The Iowa Department of Public Health has a website,, with information and resources related to mental health, gambling, and alcohol and drug abuse. The program also offers 24-hour help by calling 855-581-8111 or texting 855-895-8398.
  • Calling 211 will connect people to social service resources, including mental health counseling.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is answered by someone at a crisis center closest to your location. Other resources are available online at

Tony Leys covers health care for the Registry. Contact him at [email protected] or 515-284-8449.


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