Opinion | Recent mental health acts are the non-partisan reform veterans need and deserve

Conservative, liberal, independent — we can all hopefully come together in supporting America’s veterans and their mental health.


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Young military man talking to healthcare worker who is visiting him at home.

Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

America is politically divided now more than ever, but at least we can still come together as a country in agreeing the brave men and women who risked their lives for our freedom deserve better mental health care.

President Joe Biden recently signed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act of 2021, a bill aiming to improve mental health care within Veterans Affairs (VA). This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to set up three new teams to enhance mental health care outside of cities. It also requires federal officials to study the mental health services provided in rural areas and suggest improvements.

The bill is named after Brandon Ketchum — a veteran who committed suicide after a psychiatrist in the Iowa City VA said Ketchum did not need inpatient treatment. This bill is non-partisan, as can be seen from the fact it was co-sponsored by all four Iowa members of the US House of Representatives.

This means it is co-sponsored by three Republicans — Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Rep. Ashley Hinson, Rep. Randy Feenstra – and Democrat Rep. Cindy Axne. This bill is not political and is an example of the non-partisan mental health reform needed for veterans.

Ketchum’s story is tragic, but the act bearing his name gives me hope in a politically divided world. Improving mental health care for our veterans should not be controversial. The fact that a bill Biden signed was able to be co-sponsored by three conservatives proves this.

Mental illness and suicide continue to be big concerns in veterans. According to research by the Research and Development (RAND) Center for Military Policy Health, 18.5 percent of the veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq have major depression or post-traumatic-stress disorder. Of those veterans, 19.5 percent have a traumatic-brain injury.

Veterans also face barriers to mental illness treatment. These include the requirement that they must have an honorable or general discharge to receive VA benefits, and a long waitlist due to a shortage of health care providers.

Stigma is also another barrier. Many veterans are ashamed of their mental illness and don’t seek help because of that.

Despite the fact the two are on opposing ends of the political spectrum, former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both spoken out against the national suicide trend among veterans. A 2018 report found the average suicide rate had increased in general. On average, 20 veterans commit suicide per day.

This shows instead of name-calling and arguing with each other, Democrats and Republicans should work together for non-partisan mental health reform — especially for veterans. Regardless of our political views, we can all hopefully agree it is disturbing and heartbreaking that the psychiatrist in the Iowa City VA overlooked the fact Ketchum needed inpatient care.

Many of the barriers that veterans face in receiving mental health care can be removed if there were more non-partisan VA reform bills, which would increase how many veterans are eligible for benefits and their ability to access mental health care without waiting.

Veterans risked their lives and left their families so that complete strangers can have the freedom we are blessed to have in America today. They are some of the bravest people in America and have seen horrors we can only imagine. Considering all that, they should not be ashamed to seek help for mental health issues.

The people who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve better from our mental health care system. Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act of 2021 is an example of the non-partisan mental health reform needed to help them.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.