This Memorial Day, honoring an Iowa hero by fighting to expand mental health services in his memory

May 27, 2021
In The News

Five years ago, retired Sgt. Brandon Ketchum – an Iowan and Marine veteran – took his own life after he was unable to get the mental health care he needed.

Now, I’m telling his story in the halls of Congress and passing new legislation to ensure veterans like him have access to the care they need.

Like many veterans, Sgt. Ketchum struggled with depression, addiction, and PTSD related to his time in uniform. When he sought inpatient hospitalization in 2016 from an Iowa VA, he was denied care due to a lack of resources.

Sgt. Ketchum’s life was cut short before I took office, and I was never able to meet him. But in conversations with his mother, Bev, I’ve heard incredible stories of Brandon’s many roles that he played in his life – not just as a Marine, but as a father, brother, son, and beloved member of his community.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, I made Bev a promise.

I told her that her son’s story and memory would ensure other veterans get the mental health care he did not. And I introduced legislation bearing his name that does just that – legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives a few weeks ago.

Sgt. Ketchum served two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. In his first tour back in 2006, he helped clear 92 roadside bombs in 7 months – service that earned him a Combat Action Ribbon.

When he returned to Iowa, Brandon volunteered and spoke publicly to students about his experience with PTSD. But despite receiving therapy and addiction treatment after returning from his tours, he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life – eventually losing his battle with his illness because he was denied the care he deserved.

We already know veterans do not have enough mental health care resources across this country, particularly in rural areas. Nearly 17 veterans die by suicide every day.

That’s why I wrote my bill, the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, to increase mental health facilities in rural areas by establishing three new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement programs, known by their acronym RANGE.

RANGE programs provide rural veterans with more mental health resources, including access to a team of experts who can provide intensive addiction and mental health treatments and help veterans reintegrate into their communities.

My bill would also study if the VA is currently meeting the needs of rural veterans with mental health issues and report what resources may be needed to improve care in a way that ensures we address mental health care at root causes.

Veterans put their lives on the line and serve our nation with honor. When they come home, they should be able to receive the care they need, regardless of their zip code.

It’s such commonsense, bipartisan legislation that all four members of Iowa delegation joined in this fight together – and they helped me get this bill passed out of the House earlier this month.

We cannot simply accept that what happened to Sgt. Ketchum is a tragedy and move on. We have to use his story to make the changes to ensure he is the last to fall through the cracks in the care that we offer.

As we remember the men and women who’ve given their lives through their service this Memorial Day, I hope you’ll take a minute to keep Sgt. Ketchum and his family in your prayers. In his memory, I will continue to work to see his story told to inspire the change we need.