The hopes of veterans who need help starting a family as a result of of injuries sustained in combat were dashed Wednesday when Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pulled a bill that would have allowed the Veterans Affairs Department to fund fertility treatments.
Murray had planned to present her legislation to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday afternoon but pulled it after Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., added amendments that, among other things, questioned the funding for the initiative and would have prohibited the VA from working with Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide fertility and abortion services.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America has been under fire since the release of a video July 15 by the activist group Center for Medical Progress showing a doctor discussing the sale of tissues from aborted fetuses, as well as the process used to obtain intact tissue samples.
Murray called the amendments a "partisan attack on women's health," and said her bill, which passed the Senate in 2012 but failed in the House over funding concerns, would have ensured that the nation is doing "everything we can to support veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country."
"I am so disappointed — and truly angry that Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee decided yesterday to leap at the opportunity to pander to their base, to poison the well with the political cable news battle of the day, and turn their backs on wounded veterans," she said.
Tillis said the amendments were not intended "to kill in vitro fertilization." Rather, he said he has concerns about veterans who are waiting to receive medical care or are being denied care, including some of his constituents who have diseases related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"At some point, it may make sense to add another half a billion dollars for this medical treatment that's been proposed by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, but not until we're absolutely certain that the promises we've already made going to be fulfilled," said Tillis, a freshman congressman.
If it had passed both legislative bodies, the Women Veterans and Families Services Act would have expanded fertility services offered by the Defense Department, through Tricare, to severely injured troops, including those with fertility issues related to traumatic brain injury, and also would have lifted the ban on in vitro fertilization at VA medical centers.
Under the legislation, spouses or surrogates of these troops and veterans also would have been eligible for services.
Paralyzed Veterans of America released a statement Wednesday expressing disappointment in the bill's demise and called Tillis's amendments "histrionic political grandstanding."
"As a result of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, many young service members have suffered grievous injuries from explosive devices that have made them unable to conceive a child naturally," the statement read. "If this country is to uphold its moral obligation to make whole those men and women who have been sent into harm's way and returned broken, then it is time for this legislation to be enacted."
Tillis denied he is playing political games, citing a statistic that just 13 percent of Camp Lejeune water victims have had their claims approved by VA.
"Shouldn't it be 50 or 60 percent?" he said. "I don't think it's political when you're trying to live within your means or political to make sure that the policies you're implementing actually work the way you intended."
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.