Among the consequences of war and the sacrifice involved in military service are the assaults on the human body inflicted in battle, attacks and accidents.
We try to honor that sacrifice by providing medical care that heals the wounds and, as much as is medically possible, restores some function to injured bodies and minds. Some efforts are limited by the abilities of medical science to heal paralysis or treat brain injuries. But other efforts are confined not by the limits of medical treatment but by the lack of political will in Congress.
Since 1992, although invitro fertilization has been an option available to many in the general public who wish to have or add to their families but have difficulty conceiving, the procedure has been denied to military veterans. For nearly 25 years, Congress has barred the Veterans Administration from providing IVF to veterans and their spouses. Thousands of servicemembers have been denied a treatment that is beyond the ability of many to pay themselves; a single IVF treatment typically costs $12,000 or more. Through the VA, veterans are eligible for fertility assessments, counseling and some treatment, but the line, cruelly, is drawn at offering IVF.
Then as now, the typical objection to IVF has been that the medical process involves the destruction of some of the fertilized eggs that are created during the process. But IVF remains a legal medical procedure and is already available to active duty members of the military and their spouses. Denying the procedure to veterans, whose sacrifices for their country have resulted in their inability to conceive and serve the nation as parents, denies the debt owed to them by their country.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, on Wednesday, was joined by the families of wounded veterans at a press conference in Washington, D.C., calling for an end of the ban and the funding of IVF services for veterans and their spouses with passage of the Women’s Veterans and Fmilies Health Services Act of 2015 or by repealing the ban in a spending bill. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, likewise has called for a similar lifting of the IVF ban for veterans.
Advocacy on the issue continues a long history of work in veterans’ issues for both Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Murray, a longtime member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Most recently, Murray twiced tried to force votes to restore funding to a military spending bill for a related service for active duty servicemen and servicewomen. After the Defense Department announced a pilot program that would have allowed those in the armed forces to freeze sperm or eggs prior to deployment for use in IVF treatments in the event of an injury, Murray included $38 million in the spending bill for the program.
Both moves for votes were blocked by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who thanked Murray for her advocacy for those in the military, but said he was bound to honor an objection to the proposal by an unspecified number of Republicans. The spending bill passed the Senate on Tuesday, stripped of the money for the pilot program. But another version of the bill, which includes funding for the freezing program, has already passed the House, and it could be restored during conference negotiations.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter included the program to freeze eggs and sperm as part of his Force of the Future initiatives, meant to reform the military personnel system and improve recruitment and retention.
Those who serve in the military and the veterans whose service has demanded a high price should not be denied the opportunity to begin and grow their families. The example of their service and love of country is something that deserves to be passed on to sons and daughters.