Senate Passes Axne Mental Health Bill Named for Iowa Veteran

June 24, 2021
Press Release
The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act now heads to the President’s desk

Today, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to approve Rep. Cindy Axne’s (IA-03) bipartisan legislation to expand mental health care for rural veterans. The legislation now heads to the desk of President Biden for his signature.

The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, named in memory of Iowa veteran 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.

“I can think of no better way to honor the memory and service of Iowa veteran Brandon Ketchum, who lost his own battle with PTSD after not getting the care he needed when he returned home, than Congress approving legislation named in his honor to secure better care for our veterans,” said Rep. Axne. “I want to thank Senator Tester and Senator Moran for helping lead this legislation to unanimous passage in the U.S. Senate, and look forward to seeing President Biden sign this expansion of mental health resources for our rural areas into law. When our veterans return home, the care they receive shouldn’t be determined by their zip code. The bipartisan legislation now headed to the President’s desk will help ensure veterans in our rural areas get the support they need.”

The House passed the legislation in May. Rep. Axne spoke in favor of the legislation on the floor of the U.S. House prior to its passage. You can watch those remarks HERE.

“Brandon asked for help but was turned away because of a lack of resources. We must make sure – in his memory and for the sake of others still serving — that when our soldiers return home, they can get the treatment they need.” said Rep. Axne in a speech before the U.S. House.

In May, Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), the leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced Rep. Axne’s bill in the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Axne introduced the legislation in the House in April 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.

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 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).

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), Fleet Reserve Association, Sea Service Family Foundation, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action.

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