VA approves fertility treatment for veteran couples

by Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes

WASHINGTON – Disabled veterans hoping to start a family received a boost Thursday when the Department of Veterans Affairs began covering the costs of in vitro fertilization.

The policy change comes after Democrats in Congress pushed through legislation last year to temporarily lift a two-decade ban on the common treatment, which could now help thousands of veterans and their spouses conceive.

The new benefits will last until the fall of 2018 when the legislation expires.

“It’s a huge deal and it’s great because there’s some 2,000 people who have been waiting,” said Sarah Dean, the associate legislative director for the group Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffered blast wounds to their genitals and spines that makes it difficult or impossible to have children without medical help. Conservatives in Congress with religious concerns over discarded embryos had long opposed covering IVF treatment, which involves collecting eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory.

The VA was banned from providing the coverage since 1992 and veterans had been left to pay IVF costs that can average more than $10,000 per pregnancy attempt.

Dean said members of Paralyzed Veterans of America have emptied their bank accounts trying to have children.
Now, the new VA policy allows counseling and IVF for veterans and their spouses if they have a service-connected disability that makes then unable to have children without treatment, according to an excerpt published Wednesday in the federal register.

Dean said the coverage allows three rounds of IVF and mirrors the policy of the Defense Department, which provides the fertility treatment to troops.

The temporary repeal of the VA ban was included in a budget bill and gives a 20-month window for veterans to attempt to start families using the procedure.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she will push to make the benefits permanent.

“On behalf of all of the military families who have sacrificed so much on our behalf, I will keep working to permanently repeal the ban and make sure this country never turns its back on those who served,” Murray said in a released statement.

Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the IVF ban an “unjust policy” and the VA announcement to offer the procedure a step in the right direction.