Passage comes at a time when more servicemembers are suffering catastrophic injuries to reproductive organs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, passed her Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, through the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent. Murray’s bill builds upon previous law to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families and ends the ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF) services at VA to help severely wounded veterans start families. After passing the Senate, the bill will now move on to the House of Representatives where Rep. Rick Larsen has introduced a companion version of the bill (H.R.6527).
Senator Murray made the following statement after the bill passed the Senate:
“This is a major victory for veterans and their spouses, and for their dreams of starting a family. This bill will give veterans that have suffered catastrophic reproductive injuries the ability to access In Vitro Fertilization without having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. It also brings the VA in line with what military families are offered.
“Providing this service is a cost of war and part of the commitment we make to care for our servicemembers and veterans when they return home. I’m hopeful that now that this bill has passed the Senate without a single objection the House can also move forward and pass the bill before the end of this year. There is absolutely no reason we should make these veterans, who have sacrificed so much, wait any longer to be able to realize their dreams of starting or growing their families.”
Earlier, today Senator Murray delivered the following remarks before calling for the Senate to pass the bill by unanimous consent. During her speech, Tracy Keil, whose story is described in Murray’s speech watched from the Senate Gallery.
Senator Murray’s floor remarks:
Thank you, Mr. President.
I come to the floor today to request unanimous consent for S. 3313, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, which is unanimously supported by the Members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Mr. President, this legislation not only builds upon previous laws to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families --
But it also brings a new focus to the need for VA to do more to help women veterans and the spouses of male veterans access assistance for one of the most impactful and serious wounds of these wars - reproductive and urinary tract trauma.
As many of you know, the nature of the current conflict and the use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries.
In fact, Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 nearly 2,000 servicemembers have suffered these battle injuries.
Like so many of our veterans, these men and women come home looking to return to their lives, to find employment, and so often to start a family.
Yet what they find when they go to the VA is that the fertility services available don’t meet their complex needs.
In fact, veterans suffering from these injuries find that the VA is specifically barred from providing more advanced assisted reproduction techniques such as In Vitro Fertilization – or IVF
They are told that despite the fact they have made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we cannot provide them with the medical services they need to start a family.
Veterans like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil – and his wife Tracy, who is here with us today.
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 Keil’s 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.”
I have heard from these severely injured veterans and while the details of these stories vary, the common thread that runs through them all is that these veterans were 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.
The bill I am here asking to pass today will give VA broad authority to offer advanced fertility treatments to the most severely wounded veterans, their spouses, or surrogates.
It also gives VA the authority to determine how best to offer these benefits.
It reverses this troubling barrier to care and will bring the VA in line with the military which provides these services to this same groups of servicemembers.
This is common sense legislation that we should pass without delay.
In fact, the NY Times recently ran an editorial on this bill and said,
“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.”
They also noted that even this Congress should be capable of a bipartisan agreement to pass it.
Mr. President, I couldn’t agree more.
And I can’t think of any reason why all Republicans and Democrats wouldn’t join us today.
This is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family.
It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars.
It says to all those brave men and women that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way, that we won’t let politics get in the way of our commitment to you.
Mr. President, we can’t let this bill get bogged down in the obstruction that has become typical of this body.
This is too important to delay with procedural tactics.
The VA has an obligation to care for the combat wounded.
That should include access to the care they need.
And our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military and veteran families deserve this.
Thank you Mr. President.
I’d now like to offer a unanimous consent request for passage of S. 3313, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012