Legislation has been reintroduced in Congress to expand fertility services for severely injured troops and female veterans, to include advanced reproductive health treatments and adoption services for those who can't have children biologically.
Hoping the third time's a charm, sponsor Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., reintroduced the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2015 on Wednesday, after unveiling similar bills in 2012 and 2013.
Citing the case of retired Army Staff Sgt. Matt Keil, who was paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in 2007 and needed advanced services to have children with his wife, Tracy, Murray said the Defense and Veterans Affairs department policies are outdated and often require troops pay out of pocket to start a family.
The policies, she Murray said, "make it harder, not easier, for seriously injured veterans to have children."
"When severely injured service men and women and veterans seek reproductive health services ... their military and VA health insurance simply doesn't cover the often-expensive procedures," Murray said.
Her bill would expand fertility services offered to injured troops, including those with fertility issues related to traumatic brain injury, by the Defense Department and through Tricare and would lift the ban on in vitro fertilization at VA medical centers.
Under the legislation, spouses or surrogates of these troops and veterans also would be eligible for services.
Murray's previous attempts to ferry similar bills through Congress failed, although in 2013, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he was receptive to its provisions but objected to Murray's plan to cover its $568 million cost using funds designated for combat operations.
VA today offers diagnostic services and treatment for some conditions but by law cannot offer IVF.
Tricare covers diagnoses of illnesses that can cause infertility and correction of any medical issues that might be the source of the problem but also does not cover IVF or artificial insemination.
Service members can access those procedures at cost, if they meet criteria, at seven military treatment facilities that offer the specialty care.
The military also covers additional services such as sperm extraction, preservation of embryos, IVF, artificial insemination and other fertility services at no charge for severely wounded personnel and their spouses as long as the member is on active duty.
Murray said roughly 2,300 veterans, their spouses or surrogates would be eligible for expanded fertility services under the bill.
If approved, the legislation would:
• Repeal a ban at VA to provide IVF and expand advanced fertility treatments at DoD.
• Makes family members or surrogates of severely wounded veterans eligible for fertility treatment and comprehensive care.
• Cover adoption assistance for severely injured service members who want to adopt.
• Make permanent a VA pilot program that helps pay for child care for veterans.
In a speech Wednesday in the Senate, Murray expressed hope that the legislation would be welcomed in the House and make its way into law.
"It's a bill that recognizes the men and women who are harmed in the service of this country have bright, full lives ahead of them," she said.
A source with knowledge of the bill's development said the House Veterans' Affairs Committee plans to discuss IVF on Friday at a roundtable meeting — an indication, the source said, that House members may be receptive to considering either Murray's bill or a version proposed by one of their members.
VA officials in 2013 said they supported the legislation but objected to the inclusion of surrogates in the bill.
They said the surrogacy provision would be "extremely difficult to implement" because of the "complex legal, medical and policy arrangements of surrogacy" of each state.