Murray: “Thousands of servicemembers and veterans have returned from their service and hoped to have children, only to find that despite their sacrifices for our country, they are unable to obtain the type of assistance they need.”
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor about legislation she introduced today to help seriously injured veterans and servicemembers access reproductive services like in vitro fertilization. The bill would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide reproductive services to servicemembers, veterans and their families who have suffered catastrophic wounds of war that prevent them from starting families.
“There is no more solemn promise we make as a nation than our commitment to care for the men and women who serve in the United States military,” said Senator Patty Murray. “This is a bill that shows that when we tell our deploying servicemembers deploying to a warzone that we have their back - we mean it. It’s a bill that recognizes the men and women who are harmed in the service of this country have bright, full lives ahead of them.”
The Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2015 would expand the current fertility services offered to servicemembers and their families by DoD, end the ban on in vitro fertilization services at the VA, and make permanent a highly successful VA child care pilot program originally authored by Senator Murray.
This bill was cosponsored by Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Tester (D-MT), Sanders (I-VT), Baldwin (D-WI), and Bennet (D-CO).
The full transcript of Senator Murray’s remarks as prepared are below.
Thank you, M. President
I’d like to take just a few minutes today to discuss a piece of legislation that I am introducing today – legislation I’ve written to improve access to health care for our nation’s veterans.
Because M. President, there is no more solemn promise we make as a nation than our commitment to care for the men and women who serve in the United States military.
These men and women put life and limb on the line to protect our country, protect our freedoms, and protect our way of life.
And in return, we, as a country, make a promise to care for them, no matter what.
And just as important - we make a promise to care for their families - their wives, their husbands, and their children.
But M. President, many of the young men and women who serve in the military enter at a very young age - often before they’ve had children of their own…
...and like so many other Americans - they have big plans for their lives after their service.
Many of them plan to buy a house, go back to school, and eventually have a family.
But M. President, in a time when our military conflicts involve road-side bombs, makeshift explosives, and life-threatening danger around every corner, many of our servicemen and women are coming home with injuries that leave them unable to start their own family.
In fact, military data shows that over the last decade, thousands of servicemembers have suffered injuries that make it nearly impossible to have children.
M. President - we should be doing everything we can – with the best science and health services available – to help our veterans and their loved ones have children, despite their injuries..
But instead - outdated policies at the Pentagon and the VA are making it harder, not easier, for seriously injured veterans to have children.
That’s because when severely injured service men and women and veterans seek reproductive health services –like in vitro fertilization – their military and VA health insurance simply doesn’t cover the often-expensive procedures.
As a result, the only option for these heroes and their partners to have children is to pay out of pocket - often tens of thousands of dollars - to try and conceive.
That’s why today, I’m introducing The Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2015.
This legislation would do two main things.
First, it would expand the reproductive health services available for active duty servicemembers and their families.
And second, it would finally end the ban on in vitro fertilization services at the VA.
M. President, I’ve introduced similar legislation in the past, and as I’ve done before, I’d like to share the story of Staff Sergeant Matt Keil – and his wife Tracy.
Staff Sergeant Keil was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24th 2007, just 6 weeks after he married the love of his life – Tracy.
The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit a major artery, went through his spinal cord, and exited through his left shoulder blade.
Staff Sergeant Keil instantly became a quadriplegic.
Doctors informed Tracy her husband would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, and would never move his arms or legs.
Staff Sergeant Keil eventually defied the odds and found himself off the ventilator and beginning a long journey of physical rehabilitation.
Around that same time, Tracy and her husband started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together.
Having children was all they could talk about, once they adjusted to their new normal.
With Staff Sergeant Keil’s injuries preventing him from having children naturally, Tracy turned to the VA for assistance and began to explore her options for fertility treatments.
Feeling defeated after being told the VA had no such programs in place for her situation, Tracy and Staff Sergeant Keil decided to pursue IVF through the private sector.
While they were anxious to begin this chapter of their lives, they were confronted with the reality that Tricare did not cover any of the costs related to Tracy’s treatments – because she did not have fertility issues beyond her husband’s injury.
Left with no further options, the Keils decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment.
Thankfully, on November 9, 2010, just after their first round of IVF, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world.
Tracy told me, “The day we had our children something changed in both of us. This is exactly what we had always wanted, our dreams had arrived. The VA, Congress and the American People have said countless times that they want to do everything they can to support my husband or make him feel whole again and this is your chance. Having a family is exactly what we needed to feel whole again. Please help us make these changes so that other families can share in this experience.”
She doesn’t want to see other servicemembers and families go through the struggle she and Matt did, because of outdated policies that don’t reflect modern medicine.
And while the Keil’s story may be unique, they are not alone.
Thousands of servicemembers and veterans have returned from their service and hoped to have children, only to find that despite their sacrifices for our country, they are unable to obtain the type of assistance they need.
Some have spent tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector – like Tracy and her husband - to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family.
Others have watched their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, drove their relationship to a breaking point.
Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more.
They deserve our support to help them start a family, and our support to raise that family.
This bill is so important because access to child care is one of the most significant barriers to care to women veterans and younger veterans.
This bill makes permanent the highly successful pilot program in VA, and expands it across the country.
So M. President, I’m very hopeful today that both Republicans and Democrats can come together to support this bill.
Just a few years ago - we were able to pass similar legislation through the Senate, but unfortunately, it did not pass the House in time to get the President’s signature and become law.
This time must be different.
Because this bill is about nothing more than giving veterans who have sacrificed everything the option to fulfill the dream of starting a family.
It’s a bill that shows that when we tell our deploying servicemembers deploying to a warzone that we have their back - we mean it.
And it’s a bill that recognizes the men and women who are harmed in the service of this country have bright, full lives ahead of them.
Thank you M. President, I yield the floor.