America is only the land of the free because of the brave. As we head into Memorial Day Weekend and make plans to spend time with family and friends—it is important to remember why we celebrate this day. Memorial Day is an opportunity for us to pay tribute to those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms.
Since our nation’s founding, brave men and women have left their families and the comfort of their daily lives to answer our nation’s call to serve. While there is no way to repay those who have sacrificed to defend our nation fully, we can start by ensuring our veterans receive reliable, top-quality care when they return home—for both physical injuries and the mental toll of service. Not all war wounds are visible, and in Congress, I’m working in a bipartisan way to improve mental health care access for our veterans.
I teamed up with the entire Iowa delegation on the bipartisan Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act, legislation that expands mental health care access for veterans in rural communities. This bill is named for Sgt. Brandon Ketchum of Davenport, Iowa. Sgt. Ketchum served two tours of duty overseas, and like many veterans, struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon his return. After being turned away from a local VA when he sought treatment, Sgt. Ketchum tragically took his own life. No veteran should ever be told no when they seek help—we need to treat veterans’ mental health issues with the same urgency and seriousness as we would a physical injury. This bill takes an important step to ensure that veterans can access mental health resources that they need, regardless of their zip code. I’m proud that this legislation was signed into law by President Biden last year, but there is still more to do.
Local organizations are doing their part, too. Based in Waverly, Iowa, Retrieving Freedom is an incredible non-profit that trains service dogs as companions for veterans. I had the opportunity to see their life-saving work in action when I met Sergeant Trent Dirks and his K-9 companion, Tracer, at Retrieving Freedom last year. Sergeant Dirks struggled with depression, addiction, and PTSD after returning home from serving our country in Afghanistan. After being paired with Tracer, he had the tools and support needed to manage his service-related disability and improve his quality of life. Now, the duo is helping other veterans find their support system. After hearing their inspirational story, I co-sponsored the bipartisan Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act (PAWS) Act and worked to build support for the bill until it was signed into law in August of 2021. While it was long difficult for veterans to be paired with a service dog unless they had a physical injury, this legislation has increased access to service dogs for veterans who need emotional support.
To honor those who have fought and died for our freedoms, we must take the best possible care of our veterans and advocate for their mental health care needs. I will continue hearing from Iowa veterans and telling their stories in Washington to ensure our troops, veterans, and their families receive the full scope of care they deserve and the benefits they have earned.