Senate Bill Would Provide Nursing Rooms For Veterans At VA Medical Centers

Only half of the 180 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers across the country currently have a designated area for nursing or nursing parents. And these designated spaces are for employees, not veterans or their partners receiving care. Bipartisan legislation introduced on Thursday aims to change that.

In an exclusive for The 19th, Sens. Nevada’s Jacky Rosen and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski announced they are introducing the “Lactation Spaces for Veteran Moms Act,” which would require every VA medical facility to provide at least one designated space for veterans and their breastfeeding partners – one that is not a bathroom.

“All mothers deserve a private and hygienic place to breastfeed their children,” Rosen said in a statement. “We cannot continue to allow only half of VA medical centers to have a designated nursing room open to veterans and their partners. Mothers who are veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, the least we can do is give them privacy while breastfeeding.

The bill defines lactation spaces as hygienic places, separate from sanitary facilities, out of sight, protected from intrusion, accessible to people with disabilities, easy to locate and clearly identified by signage.

Women are the fastest growing segment of the military and make up approximately 10% of the veteran population, with nearly two million female veterans, more than a quarter of whom are women of color. According to a report 2018 from the VA’s Office of Health Equity, approximately 4,000 veterans give birth each year using their VA maternity benefits. And the demand for maternity care has increased exponentially in recent years: since 2000, the number of deliveries paid for by the department has multiplied by 14.

A spokesperson for Rosen’s office said the bill is intended to meet growing demand and make VA medical centers more accessible to female veterans, even though female veterans often opt for private medical care.

“We should do all we can to support mothers and their babies by providing better access to breastfeeding rooms in public places,” Murkowski said in a statement. “As the number of female veterans increases rapidly, we need to ensure that we have adequate support services for them.”

A companion bill, introduced by Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia, in the House adopted unanimously in May. Luria, a 20-year Navy veteran and chair of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, also co-sponsored 2019 legislation that was signed into law requiring certain public buildings with public restrooms provide lactation spaces.

The 2022 bills introduced in the House and Senate specifically codify the requirement for AV facilities.

A spokesperson for Rosen’s office said he expects widespread bipartisan support in the Senate and, if the measure passes, the Department of Veterans Affairs will have two years to set up breastfeeding and breastfeeding spaces in its 180 medical centers.

Norman D. Briggs