Brandon Ketchum we will never forget you

Brandon Ketchum was planning to go with us to Peru in 2016 for an ayahuasca dieta for what later became Soldiers of the Vine. He wasn’t able to get his Texas birth certificate in time to get a passport. When we went to Mexico for iboga and toad two months later, he killed himself after going to the VA in Iowa and asking to be admitted and being told that he wasn’t sick enough. We found that out the night of the day we all had toad. Bittersweet the medicine is.

Here is the link to the USA Today article with 4 chapters and pictures and an epilogue.

A war within myself’: One veteran’s struggle for life after combat

“I MISSED THE BATTLEFIELD MORE AND MORE, AND THAT CONSUMED MY MIND.”

Here is Brandon’s last Facebook post.

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Here is his letter on being called to the medicine.

“My name is Brandon Ketchum and am a 33 y/o veteran. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and joined the military when I was 21 y/o. I served in the Marine Corps from 2004-2008 as a combat engineer, serving two tours in Iraq, locating and clearing roadside bombs. I survived 5 “hard hits” or explosions on the vehicles we used to mitigate explosive obstacles. Unfortunately, not all of my brothers were as lucky as I was.

In July 2008 I joined the army as a combat engineer while I attempted to go to college. I dropped out in 2010 to go to Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard. I again served on a counter Improvised Explosive Device team. About 9 months into my 3rd tour I was injured and sent to Germany, then onto the states where I had to have a couple surgeries, acquiring 15 screws/rods/plates in my back and left leg. In July 2013 I was medically retired as I had been found mentally and physically unfit for duty.

Since exiting the military I have faced many struggles with my mental health and also substance abuse. I was addicted to a high dose of narcotic pain meds, began abusing them and eventually started using heroin. In February 2015 I overdosed and nearly died but was saved by paramedics and coincidentally a police officer who I had once served in the military with.

I have been involved with the substance use disorder program at the VA since 2014 and will graduate the final portion of the outpatient program this Thursday, the 24th of March, 2016. Now that I have more control of myself and my life I have begun the daunting task of starting to piece my life back together after the traumas of three hard fought combat tours had taken a costly toll on nearly every aspect of my life.

The physical and mental symptoms of severe PTSD, depression, anxiety, and the inability to adapt back to the real world has been a tremendous obstacle for me, particularly going through nearly 25-30 different types of meds yet finding no solid gains or improvements. I am a firm believer in medical marijuana but unfortunately it is not yet legalized where I live.

I have watched several documentaries about ayahuasca and considered it in the past for my substance use disorder but opted instead for a residential VA facility. I have found purpose in life again as an aspiring wood worker and am trying to start a small business, but for now work out of my woodshop in my backyard. Although I find a great deal of therapeutic value in woodworking, every day I am haunted by my past; I struggle to find meaning in the wars I waged against people I felt we didn’t protect or help.

Asking for help has only clouded my life with such a stigma that I have carried the “crazy” or “broken” labels, forcing me to have to fight for custody of my little girl that I love more than the world. I’m nearing some possible successes in some aspects of my life, directly as a result of my unwillingness to be discarded and dismissed by the country I swore to give my life for. But at the end of the day, I feel that I am also at war with myself and my “demons.”

We are all Brandon Ketchum.  Rest in peace brother.  We will catch you on the flip side.

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About Ian Benouis

Ian Benouis is a West Point graduate, former Blackhawk helicopter pilot, former US Army officer and combat veteran who participated in Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama.  This operation was the largest combat operation in US history focused directly on the War on Drugs and was the largest special operations deployment ever conducted. He was a pilot-in-command and his aviation brigade flew more night vision goggle hours than any unit in the military except for the Task Force 160 Special Operations which his unit was ultimately rolled up into when the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California military base was shut down. Ian grew up in Hawaii in the 1970’s where cannabis was decriminalized and fully integrated in to the culture.  He has been healing himself of trauma for over 25 years with sacred plants, a spiritual practice, and being a student and practitioner of ethnobotany.  Ian was a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer after he got out of the Army witnessing firsthand the meteoric rise of the SSRI’s and synthetic opioids in the early 1990's. He is a casualty of the drug war having been busted for a friend’s cannabis while in law school.  Ian is an intellectual property attorney who has been working in the corporate world for over 20 years in the primary roles of VP of Sales and Marketing and General Counsel.  He is a political activist in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space nationally and locally in Texas.  Ian was previously the Chairman of the Board for a public policy foundation in Texas for over seven years. Ian was featured in the Spike Jonze produced episode Stoned Vets on Weediquette the cannabis focused series on Viceland on HBO with a number of other veterans protesting the VA’s policy on medical cannabis and trying to end the veteran suicide epidemic. In 2016 Ian organized a trip for six veterans with PTSD to Peru in May for a 10-day plant diet including ayahuasca and other plant medicines with three Shipibo trained shaman brothers that are third generation plant medicine healers.  Ian also took some of the same veterans to Mexico for treatment with iboga and 5-Meo-DMT.  This experience was captured on video and was released as a documentary in March 2017 entitled Soldiers of the Vine. He is member of the team supporting the movie From Shock to Awe a feature-length documentary that chronicles the journeys of military veterans as they seek relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the help of ayahuasca, MDMA and cannabis.  This movie premiered at the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, AZ on June 2, 2018 where it captured the inaugural Mangurama Award for Conscious Documentary Storytelling.