Known as the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, S. 3313, the proposed change would make advanced fertility techniques, including IVF, available to disabled veterans, their spouses or surrogates as a standard part of VA healthcare benefits.
The reasons for the new legislation are compelling. Since 2003, nearly 2,000 service members sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained injuries that affect their ability to bear children. Many of these injured vets are men, but a growing number are women.
The US Department of Defense currently provides access to IVF services at no charge to service members who are severely wounded. However, once discharged from service, veterans begin receiving TRICARE, the military healthcare system, which does not cover IVF.
And this can be a problem, especially because it takes some veterans years to recover from battlefield injuries. Such is the case with Army Staff Sgt. Matt Kiel who was shot while on patrol in Iraq in 2007. Kiel was on a ventilator and not expected to regain movement in his arms and legs. Within a few months, however, he learned how to power an electric wheelchair. Now, five years later, he and his wife are finally ready to start a family. They got the green light to try IVF—but then found out it wasn't covered under Kiel's current VA health benefits. Like so many civilian couples facing the daunting costs of IVF, Kiehl and his wife don't know how they can afford the treatments.
"The war takes away so many things from us," Kiel, 31, tells the Los Angeles Times in a report on the legislation. "I don't think it should take away our ability to have a family."
Which is precisely why Senate Veterans Affair Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the legislation.
"[Veterans] are told that despite the fact that they've made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we can't provide them the medical service they need to start a family. Any service member who sustains this type of injury deserves so much more," she explained before the unanimous Senate vote approving the measure.
Next up is a House vote on the bill sometime in early 2013. Some critics say that the high cost of fertility care—a few estimates say extending this benefit could cost as much as $568 million over the next five years—might make it tough sell.
Murray, however, is holding out hope.
"Providing this service is a cost of war," she tells the LA Times. "There is absolutely no reason we should make these veterans, who have sacrificed so much, wait any longer to be able to realize their dreams of starting or growing their families."