Veterans fight for chance at family

A bullet struck Tyler Wilson’s spine 11 years ago when he was in a firefight with insurgents in Afghanistan.

The bullet, one of four that hit him, instantly paralyzed him.

Now, Wilson and his fiancee, Crystal Black, can only conceive a child using in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure that will end up costing them $40,000 and that is not currently covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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“We found out that IVF was our only option, and then we found out that it’s not covered, and that was one of the biggest blows that we’ve ever experienced in our relationship,” Black said. “It was incredibly emotionally devastating for us to realize that because of his combat service and because of the injury that he sustained in combat, that was the reason that we might not possibly be able to have a child of our own.”

Congress has moved recently to provide benefits to veterans with injuries that leave them unable to reproduce. But a division has emerged between the House and Senate in how to help the veterans.

Active-duty troops who were seriously injured in the line of duty can currently get coverage for reproductive care such as IVF. The Pentagon also recently moved to further help active-duty troops reproduce by launching a pilot program to cover the cost of freezing eggs and sperm before troops are deployed.

But the VA has been barred from covering IVF since 1992, when a law passed making it illegal for the department to pay for the service.

To fix that, on the Senate side, a massive Veterans Affairs, transportation and housing appropriations bill passed last week includes a provision to allow the department to cover IVF.

On the House side, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is pursuing a plan to provide veterans with such injuries a $20,000 compensation to be used however they see fit, including for reproductive care.

The main champion of the Senate’s approach has been Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has fought for five years to get IVF coverage for veterans.

“We’ve been saying no for way too long,” she said. “When we send our people over to fight, we give them the promise that we’ll take care of them when they get home.”

The House’s approach is insufficient, she added, because compensation is not medical coverage and the treatment can add up to more than $20,000.

Though the provision passed the Senate, it’s not in the VA appropriations bill passed by the House, and the two chambers need to reconcile their versions of the bill.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced a stand-alone bill in April to provide two $10,000 payments to veterans with reproductive injuries.

He also plans to include the payments when he reintroduces a wide-reaching VA bill that was pulled from consideration this week because of opposition to offsets that would have paid for the compensation and other new benefits.

“We owe a special debt to those men and women who — through their service to our nation — experienced an injury that resulted in a loss of the ability to conceive or carry a child,” he said in a written statement to The Hill. “This payment would recognize veterans who have experienced uniquely devastating losses and provide them with undeniably deserved compensation.”

Black, the fiancee of injured veteran Wilson, said a $20,000 compensation would be a start. But she doesn’t see it as a permanent solution: Between pre- and post-screenings, medications and the actual procedure, costs associated with IVF add up to more than that.

Black, who came with Wilson to Capitol Hill from Colorado to urge passage of the Senate bill, commended the Senate for passing its version and said she hopes the House follows suit.

“Tyler has given up his ability to walk, his ability to dance, his ability to get through life as an independent person in so many ways,” she said. “He’s given up that ability, and he would do it all over again in service to this country, but asking him to give up the opportunity to have a family of his own is absolutely where the line is drawn.”