Opinion

No Way to Treat Veterans

Saying thanks should include addressing IVF discrepancy

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has led the push to make in vitro fertilization reimbursement available to veterans. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congratulations, Congress. You have just illustrated the meaning of adding insult to injury for the people in this country who deserve it the least: wounded veterans.
 
While senators were busy fighting over Confederate flags and birth control in the Military Construction-VA appropriations conference report Tuesday, a measure in the bill to help wounded veterans start or expand their families became collateral damage. 
 
The language, which had been a part of the VA funding portion of the report, represents a years-long effort by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., to make in vitro fertilization and adoption reimbursement available for veterans who were wounded in the line of duty so seriously that they may never be able to have children on their own.
 
Because of the prevalence of IEDs in modern combat zones, the number of service members coming home with pelvic, abdominal or spinal cord injuries that make conception difficult or impossible is at a historic high.
 
The Department of Defense already covers IVF for active duty members, but an outdated rider to a 1992 VA bill still prohibits the exact same coverage from being provided to veterans, even those who have had to retire as a result of their injuries. The real-life implications of that bureaucratic discrepancy are tragic.
 
Imagine having been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, only to wake up in a military hospital to learn you’ve been so seriously wounded you may not be able to have children.
 
Even with surgeries and recovery ahead, a doctor or nurse may ask if you are married and want to have children. If you're not married, could you be married quickly and try IVF? Once you're discharged, IVF won't be an option, even in those terrible circumstances.
 
The Murray-Kirk language would update the VA's regulations to mirror the DoD's, making IVF available to veterans and their spouses, if a veteran's injuries make natural conception difficult or impossible.
 
Even with an idea so seemingly benign, the effort to provide IVF to veterans has gotten bogged down in politics again and again. The original 1990s prohibition came from pro-life lawmakers who opposed reproductive technology on moral grounds.
 
Just last week, the Military Times reported that the pro-family Family Research Council was actively working to kill the effort by warning members of Congress that the language could lead to federal funding of human cloning or “three-parent embryos.”
 
The Murray-Kirk bill somehow survived that assault of absurdity and was included in the Military Construction-VA conference report, only to be stopped in its tracks Tuesday afternoon by the partisan fight over Zika funding. This week's delay is one that the 1,700 veterans with these injuries can ill afford.
 
Anyone who has ever tried to start a family knows that the window of time to have a child closes faster than you ever thought possible, even for the healthiest couples.  For Congress to delay this bill even one more day is unconscionable.
 
Sean Foertsch, the spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, said he's hopeful that the Senate will come back to the larger MilCon bill before the August recess and finally pass it.
 
“Bottom line, this is about helping those who have sacrificed so much, to have the opportunity to start a family," he said. " With the help of 15 veteran service organizations, we have come so far and we remain hopeful Congress will help us help these incredible families.”
 
As July 4 approaches, it's a safe bet that members of Congress will see veterans in their districts and states and repeatedly (and rightly) say, “Thank you for your service.” But "thank you for your service" means nothing if Congress doesn’t also do everything in its power to make veterans whole once they've returned home from combat, including helping them start or expand the families.
 
It's time to do more than just say thank you.
 
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy