U.S. Senate passes Tester bill to expand care for women veterans


by Martin Kidston

A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., passed the Senate unanimously this week, moving forward long-standing efforts to expand the health care and reproductive treatment options available to female veterans.

The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act of 2012 would, among other things, end a Department of Veterans Affairs ban on providing in vitro fertilization.

It would expand child care options for vets who seek counseling and other treatment at VA facilities. The bill also expands reproductive services for male veterans.

“As the number of women veterans continues to grow, the VA must adapt to meet the specific health needs of women and their families,” Tester said. “This bill is one more step toward living up to the promises we made to all veterans so they can lead healthy lives.”

According to U.S. Army data, more than 600 men and women suffered reproductive and urinary injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2011.

Tester said that female service members have become more involved in U.S. combat operations. As a result, many have suffered life-changing battlefield injuries, including injuries to their reproductive systems.

VA fertility treatment services currently fail to meet the needs of severely wounded women veterans who plan to have children. The new bill would go far in addressing those needs, Tester said.

Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Casey Elder welcomed the new bill.

“A woman’s service to her country should not take away her ability to have a child, and the VA can help these families through better assistance with reproductive care and treatment,” Elder said.

Among other things, the bill directs the VA to meet the long-term reproductive health care needs of veterans who have suffered a service-connected genitourinary disability.

It also directs the VA to treat a condition incurred or aggravated in the line of duty that affects a veteran’s ability to reproduce.

“If our nation is truly committed to supporting the growing number of women veterans, this type of legislation is desperately needed,” Elder said.