House Passes Bill to Cover Veterans' Child Care During Medical Appointments

Cali Cobb walks through the Po Valley Child Development Center on Fort Drum, New York. (Mike Strasser/U.S. Army)
Cali Cobb walks through the Po Valley Child Development Center on Fort Drum, New York. (Mike Strasser/U.S. Army)

The House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that would provide subsidies to veterans for child care during some medical appointments and make permanent an existing child care pilot program at several Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities.

The Veterans' Access to Child Care bill would make permanent a pilot introduced in 2011 at facilities in Northport and Buffalo, New York, and Tacoma, Washington. It also would provide funds for veterans to pay for child care at a licensed center or private agency, either by paying the facilities directly or going through other agencies.

Bill sponsor Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, said Friday that the legislation would "break down barriers for veterans to access health care" by having a cost-free child care option while attending a VA medical appointment.

"The lack of child care shouldn't prevent veterans from receiving VA health care services. Ensuring veterans have access to child care is especially important for our growing population of women veterans, who are more likely to be taking care of young children," she said in a release.

Following passage of legislation in 2010 that required the VA to implement a pilot program to provide child care services for patients, the department established centers at three facilities. That program was to terminate in 2013 but was extended several times.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas also established a site, becoming the fourth VA medical facility to offer drop-in care.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, was instrumental in drafting the legislation in 2010 that resulted in the pilot, and she introduced legislation Monday as part of a bigger female veterans bill that includes the child care measure. She said Friday she looks forward to fighting for the issue in the Senate.

"Lack of child care can be a huge barrier for veterans with young children," Murray said in a statement. "By offering child care at VA facilities at no cost to our nation's heroes, we can help ensure veterans receive the seamless care they deserve."

The bill, H.R. 840, had widespread bipartisan support, passing the House in a 400 to 9 vote.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he "supports the bill ... and I hope to see it become law."

He expressed concern, however, that the bill doesn't include a proposal for covering its cost.

"This action of simply tossing the problem aside and leaving it for the appropriators to deal with is unwise and will have long-term ramifications for other VA programs if we do not tread carefully," he said.

According to the proposed legislation, veterans receiving mental health care and "other intensive health care services," including recurring appointments and treatments, would be eligible to use the program.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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