Axne, Iowa Delegation Honor Iowa Veteran Brandon Ketchum with Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Rural Veteran Mental Health Care

April 13, 2021
Press Release
The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act expands VA rural mental health programs and supports additional research

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) led the entire Iowa House delegation in honoring the memory and service of Sergeant Brandon Ketchum of Iowa with the introduction of bipartisan legislation named in his honor that would expand access to mental health care for rural veterans.

In 2016, Sgt. Brandon Ketchum of Davenport died by suicide after he was denied access to mental health services related to his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Iowa.

The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act establishes new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) programs through the VA and supports additional research on rural veteran mental health care needs.

“Veterans like Sgt. Ketchum 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.” said Rep. Axne. “We need to improve mental health care for veterans to ensure any veteran requesting treatment has the proper resources are available to them. Turning veterans away shouldn’t be an option. I’m proud to introduce this commonsense legislation to establish more mental health programs and examine some of the barriers our rural veterans might face when seeking mental health care.”

“The case of Sgt. Ketchum is tragic and shows us that we must do more to serve our veterans,” said Rep. Mariannettee Miller-Meeks (IA-02). “Expanding healthcare services in rural America and among our veterans are two of my top priorities in Congress, so I am proud to join the entire Iowa delegation in this effort. We simply have to do better for our veterans, there is no other option.”

“Our veterans deserve the best care and attention, including when it comes to treating unseen wounds. That is why I am honored to be a part of this effort to expand mental health services to veterans in rural areas. After Sgt. Ketchum’s heartbreaking death, it is clear the lack of reliable mental health services for our veterans needs to be addressed. Our legislation will help prevent tragedies like this moving forward,” said Rep. Randy Feenstra (IA-04).

“Sergeant Ketchum’s tragic story is too common among veterans, especially those in rural areas who may have a harder time accessing mental health services. This legislation, introduced in his honor, will help increase access to mental health services for veterans and ensure those who served our country have the support they need and deserve once they return home,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson (IA-01).

Background:

According to the VA, at least one in five veterans return from combat with at least one serious mental health condition, yet 85% of rural residents live in a Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). 

To address this, the VA developed RANGE programs, which provide a small team of specialists to meet the needs of rural veterans with serious mental health and daily living issues.

These programs are designed to support veterans who often are at high risk for housing insecurity and extensive inpatient hospitalization by integrating community, family, and financial resources in support of independent living.

In addition to establishing three new veteran mental health programs, the new legislation bill will direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study how the VA can improve mental health care for rural veterans to enable better response in the future for veterans like Sgt. Ketchum who request treatment.

The bill was introduced with Reps. Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), Randy Feenstra (IA-04), Tim Ryan (OH-13), and Ed Case (HI-01).

The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation Thursday at 10:00 a.m. ET. More information on those proceedings can be found here.

Support:

The legislation has been endorsed by The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Wounded Warrior Project, Military Veterans Advocacy, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Minority Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action.

"The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Act of 2021 would aid rural veterans in obtaining and receiving the mental health care they need and deserve,” said Kenneth Lloyd, Chapter President of the Iowa Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Iowa PVA thanks Representative Axne for leading the effort to diminish barriers to mental health care for rural veterans."

“Improving mental health services must be a key goal for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said  Commander J. B. Wells U. S. Navy (Retired), Chairman of the Board and Director of Litigation at Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc. “Mental health, specifically Post Traumatic Stress, is often at the root of the suicide epidemic plaguing the veteran's communities.  Urban areas have such services available but rural areas and tribal lands do not. This bill is a first step to alleviating this problem. Military-Veterans Advocacy thanks Rep. Axne for introducing this bill."

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