The Department of Veterans Affairs will start offering in vitro fertilization services to injured veterans for the first time in March, under new rules released Thursday.
The move comes just a few months after Congress dropped a ban on the procedure for veterans and their spouses, the result of a yearslong push from advocates who called the restrictions unfair to individuals who sacrificed for the country.
Limited fertility counseling is already available to veterans, and active-duty troops who suffer service-related injuries are eligible to receive advanced fertility treatments including IVF services. But existing rules had blocked VA from matching all of those military offerings until now.
Though the procedure is considered controversial by critics — in particular, conservative Christians — VA officials in the new rules described IVF as "a common and medically accepted procedure for addressing infertility that cannot be overcome with other types of infertility treatment."
Lawmakers who approved the change argued the existing rules unfairly penalized veterans whose injuries were so severe they forced them out of the ranks, since individuals who remained on active duty had access to the procedure.
The new rules state that VA will offer IVF as a family-planning option "when clinically appropriate to a veteran who has a service-connected disability that results in the inability of the veteran to procreate without the use of fertility treatment, as well as a spouse of such veteran."
Defense Department officials estimate nearly 2,000 troops received debilitating injuries to their groins or genital regions from 2000 to 2013, and another 300,000-plus experienced some type of head injury, which can also impact sexual performance or drive.
In a statement, officials from Wounded Warrior Project — who helped lead the congressional lobbying effort to change the rules — called the news a positive and perhaps overdue step ahead.
"WWP is pleased the VA will now offer reproductive treatments similar to what active-duty service members already receive," the statement said. "We were honored to have led a coalition advocating for this benefit so that these veterans can start families."
Specifics on available appointments and services will be outlined at local VA facilities following the 60-day review period for the rule change.
The legislation passed by Congress covering veterans IVF treatments also included new rules for reimbursement of adoption expenses for veterans. VA officials said specifics of that program will be included in a future rules release.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.