The Pentagon’s health-care system for active-duty troops covers IVF for wounded soldiers like Matt Keil. The Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans doesn’t. By the time the Keils learned about the difference, it was too late.
“We were just swallowing the fact that he was never going to go back to work,” Tracy says. “But finding out that IVF wouldn’t be covered because we agreed to retire out so quickly, that was hard, because nobody told me that.”
A law passed in 1992 made it illegal for the VA to pay for IVF, which some people oppose because embryos are often destroyed in the process.
The only option for the Keils would have been to get the procedure done immediately after Matt’s injury. They had missed the window.
Matt was just starting to accept that with the limits of current science he might never walk again. But the limit on his ability to pay for IVF was put in his way by Congress.
“This is a direct result of a combat injury,” says Tracy. “Don’t tell me that his service wasn’t good enough for us to have a chance at a family. Because we’ve already lost so much. I just want to have a family with the man that I love and please don’t make this any worse than it already has to be.”
In the decades since Congress banned IVF for the VA, the procedure has become much more common. And about 1,400 troops came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries to their reproductive organs. Thousands more have head injuries, paralysis or other conditions that make IVF their best option.
Bills to change the law come up periodically, only to be blocked at the last minute, says Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington. “They don’t come out and say that directly, but there continues to be a backroom concern about the practice of IVF,” Murray says. Murray’s bipartisan IVF bill nearly passed last summer.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who is staunchly against abortion rights, effectively blocked it. Tillis declined requests for comment, but said at the time that he opposed the bill because other problems at the VA need to be fixed first.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates a change in VA policy to pay for fertility treatment could cost more than $500 million over four years.
Murray says vets should get the same options as active-duty troops. “It’s really ridiculous that Congress would deny a widely used medical procedure to our veterans just because of their own … beliefs,” she says.
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he’s working toward a compromise that “meets the needs of this special group of severely injured veterans while being sensitive to concerns surrounding IVF procedures.”
In the meantime, many fertility clinics across the country offer discounted rates for veterans who are paying out of their own pockets for IVF.