Sen. Patty Murray fights for child care at American Lake Veterans Hospital

VA Child Care Pilot Program could be extended

By Melissa Renahan on September 17, 2014

There are a lot of appointments that veterans attend where children are not permitted. However, for the last three years, those being seen at the American Lake Veterans Hospital campus had the ability to leave their children at a child care facility onsite.

The American Lake facility opened in September 2011 as a federally funded two-year pilot project. It was one of four child care centers nationwide designed to serve veterans with children who are seeking medical care through VA hospitals and clinics. Congress granted a one-year extension in 2013.

Unfortunately, on Aug. 11, 2014, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Puget Sound Healthcare System, sent out a letter informing veteran parents that the pilot program was coming to a close after not receiving another extension. The closure was set to take effect Sept. 30.

Since that announcement came out, parents who utilize the center at American Lake have been struggling to find other solutions and to halt the closure of their center.

"It has been very popular and we've even seen an uptick in the amount of appointments scheduled at American Lake," said Chad Hutson, a public affairs officer with VA Puget Sound Healthcare System, when asked for comment Sept. 15. "It is up to legislators now to realize how valuable this has been to the veterans and decide that it should continue on a permanent basis."

Then, on Sept. 17, those parents were able to breathe a sigh of relief when Sen. Patty Murray, who authored the program originally as part of her Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, announced the potential extension of the VA Child Care Pilot Program.

Sen. Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, released a statement confirming that the House of Representatives had cleared legislation containing an extension of the VA's child care pilot program.

"Too often our nation's heroes, especially our women veterans, come home and are faced with the challenge of child care," said Sen. Murray in the news release. "For those who have so bravely served and are coping with wounds of war, accessing affordable and reliable child care should not be an additional challenge. By offering child care at VA facilities, at no cost to our nation's heroes, we are helping to ensure veterans continue to receive the seamless care they deserve. I am proud of the work being done on this program at American Lake and am grateful that Puget Sound veterans and their families will continue to benefit from these services."

The measure, which is included in the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2014 (H.R. 5404), will now go before the Senate, where it is expected to pass before the end of the fiscal year; it would extend the child care pilot program through Dec. 31, 2015.