On May 11th, 2016, I was one of the attendees of Resolve's Annual Advocacy Day. It's an important day for infertiles, like me, as well as friends of infertiles, to talk to Members of Congress about important issues like increased access to family building options and financial relief.
On the morning of the 11th, it was my turn however to get a bit of an education. While we ate our breakfast and sat comfortably planning our strategy to make Congress care about reproductive matters, Senator Tammy Duckworth spoke to us about her own experiences. As you may or may not know, Senator Duckworth is the first female Iraq combat veteran to be elected to Congress and was injured after the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2004. She lost both legs and partial use of her right arm. This ultimately affected her fertility. She shared with us, "Right now, as we are sitting here, there is a wounded vet in a hospital bed wondering if they will ever be able to have children." This hit me hard. The thought that there are so many willing to risk their lives for our country and have their fertility impacted is bad enough. To then know that our country does not extend any options or coverage to help them build their family not only made me lose my appetite but has haunted me ever since.
Before I continue, I must point out something: Fertility is a bi-partisan issue. I repeat: Fertility and family is a bi-partisan issue. There is no candidate that would ever say they are anti-family. There is also no candidate that would come out as saying that they don't support the rights and care of our Veterans.
However, as you read this, an amendment attached to a recent health and human services appropriations bill (more on this later) is struggling to get passed. It absolutely floors me that so many who claim that they support our troops do not support the troop's efforts to build a family through fertility treatment.
Here's a vocabulary word many Americans don't speak about often: Genitourinary (GU) Injuries. Genitourinary injuries are traumas or injuries to the kidneys, bladder, uterus, urethra, penis, and scrotum. That's just the physical aspects, but we can't ignore the additional impact on their psychological health. Due to the substantial amount of soldiers coming into contact with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), it has created a dramatic increased risk to their lives as well as their fertility.
At present, there are an estimated 2,000 veterans who are dealing with some sort of GU injury that has affected their ability to conceive naturally. Some are married. Some are not. All are wondering though what, if any, options do they have and if they can afford it.
Fertility treatment can cost anywhere from $10,000 - $25,000 depending on which clinic you go to and what treatment protocol you pursue. TRICARE, the military's insurance program, does provide In Vitro Fertilization, but only to certain active duty service members. The problem is, though, that if you are serving and suffer a GU injury, you would most likely have to leave active duty so this benefit wouldn't help you whatsoever. It's an odd and, frankly, unappreciative and contradictory policy for those who serve.
As I learned at Resolve's Advocacy Day, there is a bill called, "The Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act (S469/HR 3365)" that will significantly improve the care our wounded service members and veterans. It makes IVF, adoption assistance, and other family-building benefits accessible to both active duty and wounded service members. This would be ideal but seems almost impossible (for reasons still unclear to me) to pass.
Then, there is the Veterans Amendment to the Senate Appropriations - The "Mil-Con Bill", which seems to have more potential to pass. This is the amendment I referenced earlier that was added to the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs ("Mil-Con") appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2017. It would provide funding for the VA to offer IVF to wounded Veterans. It's been discussed almost daily but most U.S. senators and representatives will be on recess until September 5th before this bill is revisited.
In the interest of full transparency, I should mention that this amendment states that the federal government will pay for in vitro fertilization for injured veterans only if they do not result in the discarding or destruction of human embryos. I realize that many take issue with this. IVF in and of itself can harm the embryos and honestly, I'd rather our vets have access to this option so they can decide themselves what they do and don't feel comfortable with. It's between them, their own personal beliefs and what their doctor recommends.
So here's my question: Does any of this resonate with you? Because of my own personal struggle to conceive, I know firsthand how heart breaking it is to see others easily have children while I struggle to afford treatment without any guarantees of success. I can't even begin to imagine that same feeling stemming from an injury I sustained protecting my country, only to have my country seem indifferent towards helping me.
We readily celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but right now, all of you have an opportunity to actually make a true impact on veteran's lives. This is a huge chance to do something more than simply saying, "I support the troops". Support them by supporting their ability to have children.
Please take a moment and visit Resolve's Page, The Center for Infertility Justice, on ways you can contact your Senators and/or your Representatives. If this means anything to you, please don't be passive. Support our wounded vets' right to have a family.