Today, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, will ask the Senate to pass by unanimous consent a bill to end a ban by the Veterans Administration on support for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The bill, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, is intended to dramatically improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families, in part by helping severely wounded veterans build their families. Current regulations expressly exclude IVF from fertility services provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses.
A fact sheet on the bill states: “After a decade at war, many women servicemembers are still at risk for reproductive and urinary tract issues due to deployment conditions and a lack of predeployment women’s health information, compounded by privacy and safety concerns.”
According to Pentagon data cited by Murray’s office, nearly 2,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered pelvic fractures and genitourinary injuries since 2003, injuries that could affect their abilities to reproduce. “In particular, the reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the use of improvised explosive devices has left servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries,” Murray’s office said in a press release.
Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive, and Murray points to the VA ban as a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and urinary tract injuries, leading them to seek care outside the VA, and requiring them to incur tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs.
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Murray’s office notes that the Department of Defense currently provides access to IVF services and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded service members.
“The Department of Defense and the Tricare program are already able to provide fertility treatment to servicemembers with these injuries,” says the backgrounder on the bill. “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers fertility treatments but these services don’t always meet the complex needs of severely injured veterans. Little is known about the impact that these issues and injuries have on the long-term health care needs of veterans.”
Murray’s bill may be seen as one more practical response to the changing approaches required to meet the needs of service personnell and veterans as more women enter the military, including efforts to ensure that contraceptive supplies (including emergency contraception) are easily available on base, to pro-actively address sexual violence in the military, to ensure female service members have the same access to safe abortion care as other federal government employees, or to ensure that female veterans and their families can build their families, even when faced with catastrophic injuries.