Proposed bill would provide child care for veterans receiving mental health care
Legislation pending in Congress would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide short term child care for veterans receiving mental health care at its medical facilities.
The bill, the Veterans Access to Child Care Act, passed the House but is awaiting action in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., ranking member of the committee, said he would be pushing for the bill's passage and considering "all available options" such as passing it as a provision in a larger legislative package, which includes reform of the VA's Choice program, making its way through the full Senate.
"We should invest in the children of our vets who often sacrifice even though they are not the ones in uniform because their parents need medical care resulting from normal illness or wounds suffered in service," Blumenthal said.
If passed, the VA would provide subsidies for child care, on-site care or direct payments to service providers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill, if implemented, would cost $96 million over the next five years.
The Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is soliciting input from Connecticut vets regarding the bill.
A VA survey found that nearly a third of vets were interested in child care services and that more than 10 percent of veterans surveyed had to cancel or reschedule their VA appointments due to lack of child care.
Jason Walton, 33, of Middletown, a single father who served in the Marines for five years, said he tries to schedule his appointments while his 5-year-old daughter is at school. The bill would mean "one less stressor" for vets, he said.
Walton, who said he has a service-connected disability, has three or four appointments per month between the primary care at the VA facility in Newington and mental health services at his local Vet Center. Occasionally he's had to bring his daughter with him to appointments and said that there are issues that vets might not want to talk about in front of their children.
"For veterans who are their children's primary caregiver, lack of childcare can keep them from accessing medical care at the VA. Especially for veterans with mental healthcare needs requiring regular appointments, this can have drastic consequences. The majority of veteran suicides are among those not utilizing the VA, so anything that we can do to get vets in the door can save lives,” said Steve Kennedy, Connecticut team leader for IAVA, in an emailed statement.
He pointed out that child care falls disproportionately on women, so providing child care could help to close the gap between women and men using the VA. Women will make up 10 percent of the veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of all VA patients, according to the VA, though Kennedy pointed out child care is not an issue exclusive to women.
“We've heard from across our membership, moms, dads, and grandparents, that they would use the VA if they could bring their kids,” he said.