Many of the nation's fertility clinics plan to offer discounts on in-vitro fertilization services to veterans with service-related injuries, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproduction Technology announced Wednesday.
Describing the law that bars the Veterans Affairs Department from providing reproductive services for injured veterans as "antiquated and unconscionable," society officials implored Congress to overturn the 1990s-era ban.
Dr. Bradley Van Voorhis, SART president, said ASRM and SART members are "frustrated by congressional gridlock" and believe the government is obligated to help veterans whose infertility is related to their military service.
"While we wait for Congress to act, our member clinics have chosen to try to improve the situation. Our government should do better by our veterans," Van Voorhis said.
Since 2012, at least three bills have been introduced in Congress to broaden veterans fertility services through the VA. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a strong proponent of the legislation, estimates that 2,300 veterans with spinal cord injuries or wounds to their reproductive and urinary tract systems would qualify for the benefit, at a cost of about $568 million over five years.
But efforts to change the VA regulations have been opposed by lawmakers who object to proposals to fund the initiative, and question whether the VA should expand its health services at a time when it is struggling to care for veterans already in the system.
For retired Army Sgt. Kevin Jaye, 28, and wife Lauren, 27, of Hagerstown, Maryland, the legislation would give them hope that they could expand their family in the future.
Jaye was wounded in Afghanistan on June 24, 2012, making IVF the only way he will ever father a baby.
The Jayes have started fertility treatment at Shady Grove Fertility in Frederick, Maryland, paid for by Lauren's health insurance. She has a lifetime cap for fertility services of $30,000, and after one failed round of IVF, the couple already has used more than half the benefit.
"It quickly adds up. The medicine for the first cycle alone was more than $8,000," Lauren Jaye said. "All Kevin and I want is to try to resume a normal life like other couples have."
Tricare, the military health program that pays for private care, covers diagnoses of illnesses that can cause fertility and correction of any medical issues that might be the source of the problem, but does not cover IVF or artificial insemination.
Services such as as sperm extraction, preservation of embryos, IVF, artificial insemination and other fertility services are available at no charge to severely wounded personnel and their spouses as long as the member is on active duty.
But for many troops facing recovery and medical retirement from the military after a severe injury, starting a family is the furthest thing from their minds.
"Kevin was living at Walter Reed and undergoing multiple surgeries. I was working in Hagerstown. Our whole life would have had to change to have a baby when he was still recovering," Lauren Jaye said.
With SART's "Service to Veterans" program, individual infertility clinics will set their rates to help alleviate the financial strain of IVF services for injured veterans. Details will vary from clinic to clinic, but most will be offering at least 50 percent off to veterans with service-related infertility issues, officials said.
SART clinics will use the criteria developed by the Defense Department for active-duty personnel to decide who will be eligible.
Dr. Jason Bromer, the Jayes' doctor at Shady Grove, said he has counseled veterans who need fertility services but weren't able to pursue treatment because they couldn't afford the price tag, which can range from $15,000 to $35,000, depending on services.
Shady Grove has not yet set a price for its discounted IVF services, but Bromer described it as "deep" and said that to date, 103 fertility clinics also have signed on to support the Service to Veterans program.
"The nation's fertility doctors feel very strongly that infertility is a disease just like other diseases and we feel very strongly that our government has an obligation to take care of our veterans for all medical ramifications of their service, which includes this," Bromer said.
He said efforts also are underway to raise funds to cover even the discounted cost for qualified veterans.
Veterans advocacy groups have pressed Congress to change the law, and on Wednesday, four voiced support for ASRM's program — Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America.
"Congress refuses to care for the needs of these veterans by continuing to prohibit the VA from providing in-vitro fertilization services to these catastrophically disabled veterans. PVA thanks ASRM and the participating clinics for caring for these veterans when Congress has not," said Carl Blake, PVA associate executive director for government relations.
"The VFW hopes that this act of generosity by participating infertility clinics will motivate Congress to finally authorize coverage of IVF treatments," said VFW Legislative Director Raymond Kelley.
Lauren Jaye said she and her husband will continue to speak out on veterans health issues including infertility, and expressed gratitude that they will have access to discounts if their next try at having a baby fails.
Still, she said, Congress needs to change the law.
"The VA needs to recognize what is happening. This is a service-related injury," she said.
The Service to Veterans program will expire when the ban is lifted or at the end of the 2016 congressional calendar year, according to an ASRM release.