As we exit another Memorial Day weekend full of solemn paeans to The Troops, the Washington Post reminds us that the Veterans Affairs Administration still won’t cover in vitro fertilization for injured returning veterans. The ban has been in place for nearly a quarter century, and it’s there to protect fertilized embryos from being thrown away.
The Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux covered the story of Retired Army Staff Sgt. Alex Dillmann and his wife Holly, who are struggling to find a way to pay for the IVF that the VA won’t cover. Dillman was serving in Afghanistan four years ago when his vehicle was hit by an IED; Wax-Thibodeaux reports that he’s undergone 25 surgeries on his spinal cord as well as skin grafting. He uses a wheelchair, and the couple is unable to conceive the ordinary way; they long for children and are putting their savings into IVF.
That’s because while the VA covered the cost of retrofitting Alex’s truck, it doesn’t cover any assisted reproductive technology. This isn’t a new problem; in 2012, Megan Zimmerman, whose husband had been deployed in Afghanistan, wrote on the military website SpouseBuzz that she was shocked the VA couldn’t help them start a family:
But the most shocking thing was this: Veterans Affairs does not cover the cost of in vitro fertilization. The procedure can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, and that is per session. If you don’t successfully get pregnant, you pay that over and over again until you do.
When I learned the VA doesn’t cover this I was completely shocked. The military paid for my husband’s prosthetic legs, wheelchair, hospital stays, and everything else — but they can’t pay to help us have a child? Were it not for his injury we likely would be able to. But they are not willing to fix – or at least help us find a solution around – this.
We are not the only ones in this situation; there are thousands of soldiers who sustained groin injuries due to combat. There needs to be a law passed that allows the military to cover in vitro fertilization and any fertility testing for soldiers who received groin injuries due to combat. It is absolutely wrong that there isn’t already. It would mean the world of difference to so many people, including my family. To rip the dream of having a family away from thousands of servicemembers is wrong.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are just a few things the VA explicitly can’t cover: “[T]he VA is not authorized to provide, or cover the costs of, in vitro fertilization, abortion counseling, abortions, or medication to induce abortions.” The Post reports that ban is the result of “conservative opposition to assisted reproduction and concern that some fertilized embryos might be discarded.”
Yet thousands of soldiers returning from Afghanistan sustained devastating genital or reproductive tract injuries. Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington has introduced a bill for several years running that would remove the ban on IVF treatments, to no avail: last year, Senate Republicans blocked the bill and countered with one that didn’t cover fertility treatments. (And yes, while IVF can be costly, the military is about to spend billions to develop a new stealth bomber jet. The government can probably find 12 grand for a soldier’s IVF.)
This year, Murray is trying again, introducing a bill that would cover IVF for veterans as well as surrogacy and adoption. The Post reports that the Republican chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Comittee is uncomfortable with some of that too:
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, had objected to Murray’s plan to pay for her bill with $568 million designated for combat operations. But he said he was receptive to lifting the ban and introduced his own slimmed-down version. His measure is more limited — it wouldn’t cover adoption or surrogacy, for instance — and a source of funding has yet to be identified.
This is a weird look for the party that proclaims loudly at every turn how much they love babies, childbirth and the troops, no?
Senator Patricia Murray, pictured in April 2015. Murray has repeatedly introduced legislation that would allow the VA to cover IVF for soldiers. Image via AP