Rep. Axne Highlights Her Bill to Support Rural Veteran Mental Health Care at House Hearing

April 15, 2021
Press Release
The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act would expand VA rural mental health programs and support additional research

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) joined her colleagues on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health to honor the memory and service of Sergeant Brandon Ketchum of Iowa with testimony on her bipartisan legislation named in his honor that would expand access to mental health care for rural veterans.

“It’s important that we work to ensure what happened to Sgt. Ketchum never happens to another veteran. 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,” said Rep. Axne at today’s hearing. “We must take action to address rural health shortages, and the mental health needs of our nations’ veterans.”

The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, which was introduced by Rep. Axne earlier this week, establishes new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) programs through the VA and supports additional research on rural veteran mental health care needs.

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.

Rep. Axne’s full testimony can be found here.

The recording of the full hearing, including testimony from Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), who is a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, can be found here.

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).

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), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Minority Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action.

Remarks:

Rep. Axne’s remarks as prepared are available here:

Thank you, Chairwoman Brownley and Ranking Member Bergman for holding this important hearing.

I am proud to be here today representing Iowa to discuss a bill I introduced along with my fellow Iowans Congresswoman Miller-Meeks, who serves on this committee.

Five years ago, retired Sergeant Brandon Ketchum took his own life after he was unable to get the mental health support he needed.

Brandon was a Marine who served two tours in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. While on his first tour in 2006, he helped clear 92 roadside bombs in 7 months – service that earned him a Combat Action Ribbon.

But like many of his fellow veterans, Sergeant Ketchum struggled with addiction, depression, and PTSD related to his time in uniform. When he sought inpatient hospitalization in 2016 from an Iowa VA, the treatment rooms were full, and he was denied inpatient treatment.

Hours later, Sergeant Ketchum took his own life.

Recently, I spoke with Brandon’s mom, Bev, about Congress’ need to do more to support our veterans when they return home.

We do not have adequate mental health resources across this country for our veterans.

An HHS study found that only 50 percent of returning vets who need mental health treatment will receive it. These mental health services are even harder to find in rural areas like Iowa.

My bill would increase the available mental health facilities in rural areas by establishing three new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement programs, known by the acronym RANGE.

RANGE programs provide rural veterans with mental illnesses access to a team of experts who can help them reintegrate into their community. RANGE experts also can include existing family and financial resources to help with the recovery process.

My bill will also study how the VA is currently meeting the needs of rural veterans with mental health issues and what resources may be needed to improve care, so that when veterans ask for treatment they aren’t turned away.

It’s important we work to ensure what happen to Sgt. Ketchum never happens to another veteran.

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.

We cannot allow stories like Brandon’s to be repeated. We must take action to address rural health shortages, and the mental health needs of our nations’ veterans.

Thank you for allowing me to be here with you today.

Issues: