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Ernst Expresses Dissatisfaction with Preliminary VA Response to Ketchum Inquiry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) tonight expressed dissatisfaction and frustration after receiving a preliminary response from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than four months after her initial letter to the agency, in which she demanded answers from the VA following the death of Brandon Ketchum, a veteran who committed suicide after allegedly being denied care.

In their response, the VA wrote in part, “Please note that the Office of Inspector General conducted a preliminary fact finding site visit at the Iowa City VA Health Care System (HCS) on August 4 and 5, 2016. In addition, a protected peer review has been initiated for the Iowa City HCS to be conducted by a separate VA medical center as well as a non-VA facility. All results from these investigations are pending at this time. VA’s local policies and procedures for admitting Veterans to inpatient mental health care at the Iowa City HCS are consistent with national policies. All results from these investigations are pending at this time."

In response, Senator Ernst issued the following statement: 

“The response from the VA is completely inadequate and unacceptable. It is ludicrous to prematurely conclude that the VA policies were not only followed, but were also the absolute appropriate steps before even completing the full investigation. Clearly, when veterans are taking their own lives after being denied care, the policies must be more closely examined, even if they are being followed.

 “Our veterans need better than this status quo, and deserve quality and timely care that they can rely on. I will remain vigilant in continuing to press the VA for specific answers over Mr. Ketchum's death, as well as how they plan to fix their policies moving forward to prevent these horrific tragedies from happening.”

The VA did not specify when the investigation will be complete. 

Today’s response from the VA follows a November 10th letter Senator Ernst sent the VA OIG demanding an update on the investigation. Previously, Senator Ernst also sent personal letters to both VA Inspector Michael Missal and VA Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin seeking answers as to why Mr. Ketchum was allegedly denied treatment.

Senator Ernst also sent the VA OIG a letter on November 15th, inquiring about yet another investigation into the death of Iowa veteran Curtis Gearhart, who also took his own life after allegedly being denied care from the VA.

To read today’s response from the VA in full, click here.