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Fertility Services for Veterans

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patty murray talking with veterans

NY Times – One of the unexpected and little-noted consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been an increase in the number of service members whose battlefield wounds leave them unable to have children. One apparent reason is the type of combat: when troops on foot patrols are struck by improvised bombs, they are particularly vulnerable to pelvic injuries that damage their reproductive systems. Military records show that since 2003, more than 1,800 service members in those wars — the majority of them Army troops — have suffered such wounds.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced a bill that would expand access to fertility treatments for disabled veterans who need them. Their spouses and surrogates would be covered as well.

The most significant change involves access to in vitro fertilization — though the Veterans Affairs Department now offers some fertility services, like counseling, testing and a form of artificial insemination, it does not allow IVF, which can cost patients many thousands of dollars from private providers. The bill would put the V.A. on par with the Defense Department, which provides IVF and other fertility services to active-duty service members who are severely wounded in combat.

Ms. Murray’s bill has other provisions to help young families, like creating child-care programs at Vet Centers so that parents are able to seek counseling and other mental health services there, and improve outreach to women at the veterans call center. At a legislative hearing in June, V.A. officials said the department wanted “to restore the capabilities of veterans with disabilities to the greatest extent possible ,” but did not take a position on the bill. It should not be difficult for the V.A. to support Ms. Murray’s legislation, whose provisions for covering fertility treatments are sensible and welcome; even this Congress should be capable of a bipartisan agreement to pass it.

In more than a decade of combat overseas, the military and V.A. have continually had to adjust to the challenges of new traumas with new treatments, as with the epidemic of brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Adapting the V.A. health system to better meet reproductive-health needs should be part of that response. It is one compassionate way to fulfill the country’s duty to wounded veterans.

Source: NY Times Editorial, August 26, 2012

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