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Fertility benefit coming to active-duty personnel Oct. 1

Active-duty military personnel will be able to freeze their eggs or sperm under a fertility pilot program beginning Oct. 1, a senior defense official said earlier this month.

Brad Carson, an adviser to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a press release that told Defense Department News that Tricare will cover the services will be covered by Tricare as part of under the Pentagon’s Force of the Future initiative.

Gamete freezing is one of several flexible family-planning benefits included in the initiative, an effort to realign military benefits to attract and retain troops. Also proposed in Force of the Future also includes are plans to increase the number of rooms available for breast-feeding on DoD installations and keep military child-care centers open for at least 14 hours.

DoD already has extended maternity leave for personnel under the program.

"We hope that we can at least start the implementation of most of these reforms over just the next few months," Carson said. "So, for example, maternity leave will be almost immediate. Egg freezing will be on Oct. 1. … It may take a few months or even a couple of years to fully implement, but we can start immediately and get the ball rolling."

According to a Defense Health Agency official, the demonstration would cover all costs associated with oocyte or sperm retrieval, cryopreservation and storage and handling for the duration of the demonstration, as long as the service member remains on active duty.

The project will not cover future thawing, in vitro fertilization or implantation and will only be available to active-duty personnel, DHA spokesman Kevin Dwyer said.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in January the program will give troops who deploy "peace of mind," while providing "greater flexibility" for service members to decide when they want to start a family.

"For women who are midgrade officers and enlisted personnel, this benefit will demonstrate that we understand the demands upon them and want to help them balance commitments to force and family. We want to retain them in the military," Carter said.

Most military personnel are in their prime child-bearing years: Nearly half of all enlisted personnel are under age 26, with the next largest group, 22 percent, being ages 26 to 30. More than 42 percent of officers are between the ages of 26 and 35, according to Defense Department data.

Women made up 15 percent of the active-duty force of 1.3 million in 2014.

Defense officials say the program would improve retention of women because so many female troops leave in their 20s and 30s to start families. The benefit would allow women to put off having a baby during the early years of a military career, when they are most likely to deploy or have less flexibility in their jobs or work schedule.

In addition, mMore than 1,300 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered injuries to their groin regions and genitalia that would require advanced reproductive surgeries to restore fertility.

This program would allow troops to freeze their sperm or eggs before a deployment, increasing their chances of having children if they suffer a pelvic injury in training or combat.

DHA will publish more information on the pilot program in the coming months. DHA spokesman Kevin Dwyer said the agency also is working on an estimate to determine the demonstration project's cost.

Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.

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