Tester, Moran Bill to Improve Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Care Heads to President’s Desk

Committee leaders’ bipartisan Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act to expand VA rural mental health program and support additional research passes Senate unanimously

The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed bipartisan, bicameral legislation introduced by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to expand access to mental health care for rural veterans. This legislation now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The Senators’ Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 will establish three new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) 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.

“Unanimous passage of this bill is a critical step in connecting rural veterans with the life-saving care they need,” said Chairman Tester. “Veterans in Montana and other rural areas across the country have waited too long for resources that’ll expand access to mental health care and meet their urgent needs. I urge the President to quickly sign this legislation into law, to keep at-risk veterans from slipping through the cracks.”

“Veterans deserve access to high quality health care no matter where they live, including important mental health care and services,” said Ranking Member Moran. “I am pleased the Senate passed this legislation that 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.”

“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 Representative Cindy 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.”

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 VA facility in Iowa.

In addition to establishing three new veteran mental health program centers, the bill will direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study how VA can improve on providing mental health care for rural veterans to enable better future care to at-risk veterans like Sgt. Ketchum who request treatment.

Numerous Veterans Service Organizations have endorsed the Senators’ bipartisan 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.

“We are incredibly pleased to see the passage of the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act, and look forward to its signature into law so that underserved veterans—including our homeless and at-risk populations—can gain access to the mental health resources they need,” said Joy Ilem, DAV National Legislative Director. “We thank Senators Tester and Moran for working to get this bill across the finish line and for their ongoing attention to the unique needs of our nation’s rural veterans.”

“Eliminating suicide among our nation’s veterans and strengthening mental health care programs and access continues to be a top priority for the VFW,” said Tammy Barlet, VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director. “The Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 will provide more veterans access to the coordination of multiple health care and social work professionals to develop a tailored recovery and treatment plan specific to the veteran. The VFW would like to thank Senators Tester and Moran for their continued hard work to evaluate and expand the Rural Access Network Growth Enhancement Program (RANGE) for rural and highly rural veterans.”

“As our community continues to look for ways to connect veterans with the mental health care and support they need, Wounded Warrior Project is pleased to see the Sgt. Brandon Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 being sent to the President’s desk,” said Jose Ramos, WWP Vice President of Government and Community Relations. “We appreciate Chairman Jon Tester and Ranking Member Jerry Moran for introducing this legislation and ensuring swift Senate action. We are hopeful that expansion of the Rural Access Network Growth Enhancement Program to new locations will provide critical resources to veterans with serious mental health and daily living issues, and we look forward to continuing our work with Congress to close the gaps in care that exist for veterans in rural areas.”

“Geography should never be a determinant on who can receive mental health care,” said Heather Ansley, PVA Associate Executive Director of Government Relations. “PVA appreciates the Senate’s swift action to pass the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 and we hope it will quickly be signed into law.”

“NOVA applauds Senate leadership—especially Senators’ Tester and Moran—in passing the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Health Act of 2021,” said Kelly Skinner, NOVA President. “The legislation will break down geographic barriers to mental health care by providing Veterans in rural areas access to high quality outpatient mental healthcare services. NOVA believes this is critically important to VA’s whole health model of care which supports the veteran patient’s health and well-being wherever they live.”

“Inpatient and residential care are essential to caring for veterans struggling with the most serious mental health crises,” said Matt Kuntz, NAMI Montana Executive Director. “The lack of this high-level care in rural America leads veterans and their families scrambling to find a way to access life-saving acute care. We are fully supportive of the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Act of 2021 and believe it will provide essential tools in addressing that lack of acute care for rural veterans who are most in need.”

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