When military veteran Toni Hackney retired from serving in the army for 16 years, she dreamed of raising a family after her challenging time spent as a service-woman.
After struggling for a year seeking approval from the Department of Veteran Affairs for the coverage of her in-vitro fertilization treatment, she was turned away on the premise of not being married.
According to VA's official website, "Veterans with certain service-connected conditions that result in infertility may be eligible for in vitro fertilization (IVF), or another form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and other infertility services. VA can provide these services if:
You have a service-connected condition that causes infertility
You are legally married
Male spouses can produce sperm
Female spouses have an intact uterus and can produce eggs
In September of 2016, the Congress reversed a law passed in 1992 that forbade the VA from funding IVF treatment for wounded veterans. Pressure mounted as returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from serious post-combat injuries affecting their reproductive abilities. Before the landmark decision was made, the story of Tyler and Crystal Wilson started making rounds, where the couple was desperately trying to conceive but could not because Tyler had been left paralyzed as a result of serving on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Even though the VA started covering fertility IVF treatment for veterans only 4 years back, most fertility clinics and facilities have been providing discounted care to vets and active duty members since a long time.
The move by VA was welcomed widely and has proven to be beneficial for many families however, it's worth noting that between 2016 and today, a mere 567 families have actually used and benefitted from VA funded IVF treatment. This resoundingly low number is inconsistent with the number of active duty soldiers and vets who have actually had their reproductive capabilities impacted by serving in the military.
Critics suggest that the restrictive and conditional nature of the coverage is behind this extremely low number, which leaves behind factions of vets who are unmarried, unable to provide their own gametes, or those unable to tangibly connect their infertility to combat. The last one is tricky and one which allows the VA to refuse coverage to many vets who cannot connect a war injury manifestly to infertility. That means that if your infertility for instance, is derived from psychiatric medication prescribed for your PTSD as a result of serving in war, you are not covered. You're also not covered if you spent the majority of your fertile years fighting on the battlefield and postponed the window of reproducing naturally.
For female vets, the issue of connecting their infertility with combat is even greater.
With exposure to toxins, sexual trauma, ill-fitting body armors, psych meds all contributing to reproductive harm, there are countless examples of service-women who have struggled with reproducing post-combat. Case in point: Genevieve Chase, a master sergeant who spent 15 years in the Army reserves, serving twice in Afghanistan. Chase, who's currently 41, enrolled in the military's IVF program but her first cycle failed, and that was the end of it. After that the coverage was all on her own, which typically ranges from $15,000 - $20,000.
"The military’s IVF program is half-cost and constantly overbooked," she further adds.
Military women have also been shown to exhibit significantly higher rates of infertility as opposed to their civilian counterparts. A survey conducted by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in early 2018 reported that about one in three current and former service women said they’ve had problems with infertility.
One woman, an Army aviation retiree, said her exposure to methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK, caused her to lose her ovaries at age 21. In her case, the VA's condition of a female potential beneficiary for IVF coverage requiring to have an intact uterus and own ovum automatically disqualifies her.
Sen. Patty Murray from Washington has been trying to expand the spectrum of VA's fertility coverage benefits in terms of adding single, unmarried veterans and non-traditional couples to the list of potential beneficiaries along with increasing the types of coverage offered however, there's substantial religious opposition to a legislation of that sort. The opponents argue that IVF threatens the traditional man-woman union along with bringing the anti-abortion argument in the mix.