The Veterans Affairs Department could soon provide free child care for veterans undergoing treatment for mental health and other medical issues — a move some lawmakers hope will make it easier for veterans to get help.

The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that seeks to make permanent an existing pilot program rolled out in 2011. At the time, a VA survey found that more than 10 percent of veterans had to cancel or reschedule VA appointments because they lacked child care, and one-third said they were interested in child care services.

“We made a promise that our veterans will get the care they’ve earned,” Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., said in an email. “We can’t put insurmountable roadblocks in front of their ability to receive that care.”

The Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act calls for the VA to provide child care on site, pay veterans a stipend for the full cost of child care at licensed facilities, pay the facilities directly or collaborate with other agencies.

The Senate still needs to approve the legislation before it can head to the president to become law. It passed the House with bipartisan support, though some Republicans were reluctant about having taxpayers foot the bill.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said he supports the bill, but his key concern is that there is no offset — something lawmakers would have been required to find last Congress under Republican leadership.

“Last Congress a similar bill passed unanimously with an offset, and now Democrats won’t even debate it. While we must provide for our nation’s veterans, we must also look out for our taxpayers,” Roe, ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in an email.

Brownley, who introduced the legislation, said the VA secretary will be able to define which veterans are eligible for the program. But its primary intent is to help veterans with “intensive and recurring healthcare needs.”

“For example, a veteran who is undergoing cancer treatment cannot afford to miss medical appointments — and may need a safe place to leave their young child while they receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Likewise, veterans who have regular mental healthcare appointments may need assistance with child care, because it would be inappropriate for young children to be present for tough conversations with a therapist about military sexual trauma or other battlefield trauma,” she said.

It would also extend to grandparents and other primary caretakers.

Congress has renewed the pilot program four times since its launch. If this bill doesn’t become law, or Congress does not renew it again, the program is set to expire later this year.

Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.

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