xml:space="preserve">

The men and women in our armed forces go where our nation's leaders direct them, serve in difficult and often dangerous conditions and do so with admirable dedication and professionalism. As a nation, we owe them our freedom. When they are wounded serving their country, we have an obligation to care for them and to strive to make them whole again.

The ability to have a first child or grow their families can help severely wounded, often paralyzed veterans adapt and thrive in civilian life. However, Congress currently bans the Department of Veterans' Affairs from covering in vitro fertilization (IVF) costs, thus preventing veterans from accessing reproductive health professionals and treatments. This is a shame and yet another failure of our veterans' health care system that Congress can and should rectify.

Advertisement

IVF is today a routine medical procedure available to tens of thousands of American couples struggling with infertility. The more than 6,300 physicians and reproductive medicine professionals gathering this week in Baltimore for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual meeting can all attest to the importance of IVF as a medical solution for infertility.

As a specialist in male reproductive health, I know that IVF treatments are now widely accepted, available and successful. But I am also keenly aware of the special challenges faced by wounded veterans diagnosed with infertility as a result of severe blast traumas and spinal cord injuries. With recent historic advances in science, technology and practice — many pioneered here in Maryland — seriously injured and paralyzed veterans may no longer be medically precluded from having children. I am proud that we can offer these patients real hope and solutions.

That is why the congressional ban preventing us from using the great advances made in IVF medicine to help veterans is so difficult to comprehend. Indeed, current veterans' benefits already cover the costs of a wide array of innovative health care services and technologies helping veterans to function in civilian life. These includes the costs of retrofitting vehicles to better meet their physical limitations, remodeling homes to meet their specific physical needs, and providing access to motorized wheelchairs and other technologies to help expand their mobility. Veterans can also utilize a wide range of physical and mental health services, job training and other education and employment assistance. Covering the costs of IVF and infertility services will simply further fulfill our national promise to wounded veterans.

Additionally, Congress' prohibition on covering IVF and fertilization services for injured veterans is particularly ironic because the Department of Defense currently can and does cover those costs for injured active duty military personnel. In other words, a medical service now available to active duty members of the military vanishes the moment that a soldier leaves the service. Severely wounded service members are, understandably, more often focused on recovery than on the decision of whether to have a child or extend their family. For most, the desire to build a family comes after they have separated from the military, when the veteran and his/her partner feel ready to pursue that dream. Only then will they learn that the IVF coverage available to active duty service members has vanished.

Clearly, wounded and paralyzed veterans deserve access to the full spectrum of infertility services now available to those on active duty. Yet, while there is broad support in both houses of Congress for lifting the ban, recent efforts to provide IVF coverage failed in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. There, legislation proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, to extend fertility and IVF coverage to injured veterans was withdrawn under the threat of numerous unrelated amendments proposed by a small minority of legislators unalterably opposed to IVF techniques.

On behalf of our nations' wounded and paralyzed veterans, we call on Congress to put politics aside. To deny severely wounded veterans a future that includes children and the support of a family is unacceptable. By working together and focusing on meeting the needs of veterans and their families, Congress can easily fix this problem — now. And, by doing so, Congress will honor our veterans for the sacrifices that they have made on our behalf.

Dr. Rebecca Z. Sokol is president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Her email is doctorrss@gmail.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement