An amendment added to the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill Thursday would allocate $88 million to VA to cover fertility treatments and counseling for veterans who can't have children as a result of wartime injuries.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who has introduced similar legislative language four times since 2012, said the amendment was needed to ensure that VA isn't "denying veterans their dream of starting a family."
"Here's the reality, thousands of men and women in uniform — many in their early 20s — have suffered injuries on the battlefield that left them unable to have children naturally," Murray said during a Senate markup of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
"They have testified here in the Senate about the sacrifices they made, and the extreme cost barriers they face to do the one thing they want most — start a family," she said.
The amendment would provide $18 million in fiscal 2017 for fertility treatments provided by VA and $70 million in fiscal 2018.
"The fact is assisted reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization is medically sound and widely used. ... The Defense Department has been providing this care to service members for some time now," Murray said.
Nearly 1,400 troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experienced injuries to their pelvises, groins or spinal cords that make it difficult or nearly impossible to have children without medical assistance.
Others have been injured in accidents that have rendered them infertile as a result of paralysis or traumatic brain injury.
The Defense Department covers the cost of in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for some wounded troops on active duty and also covers the cost of medications, such as erectile dysfunction medicines, for troops with head injuries that affect fertility.
VA provides fertility assessments, counseling and some treatment, such as surgeries, medications and intrauterine insemination, but does not cover in vitro fertilization or fertility services for the spouses of the injured.
On Monday, House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., introduced legislation that would compensate veterans for the "loss or loss of use of creative organs," to help veterans who can't have children as a result of a service-connected condition.
Miller's bill would pay veterans $20,000 in special compensation payments — over and above the disability compensation the veteran receives — to be used "at the veteran's discretion."
But the VA appropriations bill, including Murray's amendment, which passed the committee in a 23-7 vote, would require VA to cover or provide the services.
According to Murray, a stand-alone bill she introduced in 2015 to provide these services — legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., — had strong support from a number of veterans groups, including Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, AMVETS and the Service Women's Action Network.
Organizations like RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine support it as well, she said.
In 2012, Murray's VA fertility bill was unanimously approved by the Senate but the House failed to bring it up for a vote.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans' health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org