The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin covering costs for in vitro fertilization and adoptions for combat-wounded veterans struggling with infertility because of their injuries, giving thousands of young veteran families fresh hope at starting a family, advocates say.
President Obama signed a bill last week that allows the agency to pay the costs for the next two years from existing VA health-care funds. The provision was authored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who said she is also pushing to fund the services permanently.
Because of the widespread use of improvised explosive devices in combat zones, those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered greater rates of spinal cord and genital injuries than in past conflicts, leaving many veterans unable to conceive naturally.
But for more than 24 years, VA was banned from covering the costs of IVF by a law that Murray and others say is outdated. Congress passed the ban because of conservative opposition to assisted reproduction. Today, however, IVF is widely accepted around the world.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Alex Dillmann and his wife, Holly, said that when they heard VA was finally allowed to pay for IVF and adoption, they felt a “huge sense of relief and hope.”
Dillmann was paralyzed from the abdomen down in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. After he recovered, the Tampa couple endured three rounds of IVF. The last one was paid for by a philanthropic couple who heard their story and believed that their situation was unfair.
Their son, Maximus Kristopher Dillmann, is 11 weeks old now. He’s got a lush head of black hair. He’s curious about how everything works. And he has a giggly smile.
Often, they think about how close they came to never having him.
“I don’t want to sound cliched, but every day I wake up and Maximus gives me a purpose. Since the day he was born, I want to go to work for him, be a better person for him,” said Alex Dillmann, who, along with Holly, has become an informal support system for other veteran families that are trying to start a family. “In this political season, there is a lot of talk about helping veterans — with the suicide issue and others — but it’s so good to see something actually getting done.”
“It’s a long time coming,” said Holly, who admits to now being “one of those moms” who frequently post baby pictures on Facebook.
Just a little over a year ago, the stress of the grueling IVF process left her vulnerable and rattled. On top of that, she worried about the financial burden. IVF can often require several attempts and can cost more than $30,000.
“It shouldn’t have been a fight to even have,” she said. “We are just so happy for other veteran families who dream of having a family.”
Because Murray’s provision was attached to an appropriations bill, she couldn’t actually lift the ban. Instead, this is a workaround because it authorizes VA to use its existing funds. It would need to be reauthorized every two years. Murray said she “won’t give up” on pressing to have the ban lifted. Both she and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) have been trying to overturn the ban since 2012.
Meanwhile, VA supports legislation that would establish IVF as part of the medical services it offers.
“Our goal is to restore, to the greatest extent possible, the physical and mental capabilities of veterans with service-connected injuries. The provision of assisted reproductive technologies would do that,” said Walinda West, a VA spokeswoman, in a statement. “It is important that we fully understand the needs of our veteran population, and fully incorporate the major scientific advances available today that can allow them to live a full life.”