Legislation expanding VA mental health care access for rural veterans heads to Biden's desk

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Legislation to expand access to mental health care for rural veterans is heading to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature Photo credit Al Drago/Getty Images

Legislation to expand access to mental health care for rural veterans is heading to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The bipartisan, bicameral Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 will establish three new Department of Veterans Affairs Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement program centers to provide community-based care and services for rural veterans diagnosed with serious mental health issues and support additional research on rural veterans’ mental health care needs and treatment options.

“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. Cindy Anne (D-IA).

Ketchum, of Davenport, Iowa, 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 VA facility.

The legislation also directs the Government Accountability Office to study how VA can improve on providing mental health care for rural veterans to enable better future care to at-risk veterans like Ketchum who request treatment.

“Unanimous passage of this bill is a critical step in connecting rural veterans with the life-saving care they need,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

A number of Veterans Service Organizations endorsed the effort to connect rural veterans with life-saving mental health care, including Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), The American Legion, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Montana.

Text of the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act can be found here.

Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Al Drago/Getty Images