Momentum Builds for Axne’s Mental Health Bill Named for Iowa Veteran
This week, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, introduced Rep. Cindy Axne’s (IA-03) legislation to expand mental health care for rural veterans in the U.S. Senate.
The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, named in memory of Iowa Sergeant Brandon Ketchum, establishes new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) programs through the VA and supports additional research on rural veteran mental health care needs.
“When our veterans return home, the care they receive shouldn’t be determined by their zip code, but lack of adequate care in our rural areas can mean a veteran doesn’t get the support they need,” said Rep. Axne. “I want to thank Senator Tester and Senator Moran for honoring Brandon Ketchum, the Iowa veteran who inspired this legislation, with the introduction of this bill in the Senate. This bipartisan—and now bicameral—bill will expand mental health resources in our rural areas and ensure veterans like Sergeant Ketchum can get the care and support they’ve earned.”
“Veterans living in rural states like Montana face many barriers to mental health care that often come at too high a cost,” said Sen. Tester. “Our bipartisan bill will increase access to life-saving care with additional resources proven to meet the unique needs of rural veterans. And, it’ll help treat invisible wounds of war to prevent at-risk veterans from falling through the cracks.”
“Veterans deserve access to high quality health care no matter where they live, including important mental health care and services,” said Sen. Moran. “This legislation expands access to critical resources for rural veterans living with serious mental illnesses to help make certain a veteran in crisis is never turned away from receiving the care they need.”
In April, Rep. Axne introduced the legislation in the House with the backing of the entire Iowa House delegation.
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.
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 originally 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 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), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Minority Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Fleet Reserve Association, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action.