Why I’m introducing the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2017

Last spring I had the honor of spending time with three couples who came from across the country to share their stories about their service to our country.

Army Corporal Tyler Wilson served in Afghanistan, where he came under a hail of bullets during a rescue mission.

Army Staff Sergeant Matt Keil, married just a few weeks before he deployed for a second time to Iraq, was paralyzed from the waist down when a sniper’s bullet nicked his spine.

Army Private First Class Kevin Jaye was on patrol in Afghanistan, when he stepped on an IED.

Each veteran bore the scars of their service to our country. Between the three of them they endured dozens and dozens of surgeries and an unknown number of hours of rehabilitation. Through it all, the Department of Veterans Affairs provided practically everything they and their partners needed for recovery, making good on a promise our country makes to take care of those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.

Except for one thing.

Tyler, Matt, and Kevin all suffered injuries — to the spine, the groin, or elsewhere — that affected their ability to have children without the help of assisted reproductive technology, or ART. Even though ART is widely-used and medically sound, VA was unable to help the veterans because in the early 1990s, Congress passed a ban prohibiting VA from using its funds to cover the procedure. Why would Congress ban such a specific procedure for men and women wounded in their service to our country? Some members of Congress say it was because of the costs of ART, which can run several thousand dollars per attempt. Others oppose the coverage because ART — specifically in vitro fertilization, or IVF, could result in discarded embryos.

The reason for the ban didn’t matter to the couples I met. The only thing that mattered was that it created another barrier that prevented them from having a family. Like so many young men and women in this country, each of them had dreamed of having children. As Matt told me when they found out VA was prohibited from covering the cost of the one medical procedure they wanted so badly, it felt like his country had abandoned them. Kevin called it devastating.

They told their stories because they don’t want other military families to feel like their country won’t be there for them when they suffer injuries during their service. I am so grateful to them, and to the advocacy groups who work tirelessly to make sure the public knows what is at stake.

Because of stories like these, I have introduced legislation each Congress since 2012 to permanently repeal this outdated ban and today, I’m doing that again. My bill, the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act of 2017, would build upon a provision I pushed into law last year that gave veterans temporary access to ART. It would empower servicemembers and veterans with service-connected injuries to start families when the time is right for them, whether they choose to use current options available through the Department of Defense, or opt to use those services once they have transitioned to veteran status. My bill would also give more options to veterans who want to adopt children. And it would make it clear: our country is there for our military families no matter what.

When we ask men and women to serve our country, we make a promise to them to care for them when they return, no matter what. This legislation is just one way Congress can follow through.

It’s still hard to believe that to this day, the effort to make sure servicemembers and veterans are able to access ART, even through existing programs, is under attack. So to my colleagues in Congress who say ART is too controversial, I challenge you to meet with Tyler, Matt, or Kevin — or any other of the thousands of servicemembers who have suffered injuries during their service to our country — and tell them that your political interests are more important than their ability to have a child. To my colleagues concerned about the price tag, I challenge you to tell me this is not part of the cost of war.

When we ask men and women to serve our country, we make a promise to them to care for them when they return, no matter what. This legislation is just one way Congress can follow through.

Read more about Sen. Murray’s legislation here.