WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to advance Rep. Cindy Axne’s (IA-03) bipartisan legislation to expand mental health care for rural veterans.
The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, named in memory of Iowa Sgt. Brandon Ketchum of Davenport, establishes new Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) programs through the VA and supports additional research on rural veteran mental health care needs.
Ketchum died by suicide in 2016 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 Davenport.
“I can think of no better way to honor the service and story of Iowa veteran Brandon Ketchum, just days before Memorial Day, than the House passing legislation named in his honor to secure better care for our veterans,” Axne said in a speech on the House floor in support of the legislation. “The care our veterans 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. This 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.”
In addition to establishing three new veteran mental health programs, the legislation directs 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.
“Brandon asked for help but was turned away because of a lack of resources,” Axne said. “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.”
Axne introduced the legislation in the House in April, with the backing of the entire Iowa House delegation — Reps. Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) — as well as the support of two Ohio Congresspersons — Tim Ryan (OH-13) and Ed Case (HI-01).
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), the leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced Axne’s bill in the U.S. Senate earlier this month.
The legislation was 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 and Policy & Action.