When Army Staff Sergeant Alex Dillmann was paralyzed from the stomach down after a bomb blast in Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) stepped in to provide heath care and benefits. After 25 surgeries on his spinal cord, the VA retrofitted his truck and provided exercise equipment. But the VA is banned from covering IVF treatment, which would give Dillmann and his wife, Holly, their best shot at conceiving. “At the end of the day, I’m so lucky to be alive. Part of that is this dream to be a parent,” Dillmann told the Washington Post, “But this is a big pill to swallow for all veterans facing combat injuries, which have hurt their chances to have children.”
Dillman and his wife are among thousands of post-combat couples struggling to start a family in the wake of paralyzing blast injuries that often sever genitals, leave reproductive tracts damaged, and make it impossible to conceive naturally. Many veterans have forgone GI Bill education opportunities to join the workforce and start saving for expensive IVF treatments; other couples have taken out extensive mortgages on their homes with the hopes of having a child.
An upcoming round of IVF will cost $25,000 for Dillman and his wife; they’ve drained years of savings. Unfortunately, multiple rounds are often required, especially when a prospective parent has limited functions. So why won’t the VA support injured veterans trying to start a family?
The Washington Post suggests that the ban arises from “conservative opposition to assisted reproduction and concern that some fertilized embryos might be discarded.” Jezebel pointed out that there are only a few things the VA explicitly can’t cover; in addition to IVF, the VA can’t provide or cover the costs of abortions, abortion counseling, or medicine to be used for abortions.
Washington Democratic senator Patty Murray has repeatedly introduced a bill that would remove the ban on IVF treatments, but Republicans have shut it down. Last year, they blocked the bill and countered with one that wouldn’t cover fertility treatments at all. “These young veterans have put their bodies and their futures on the line in combat,” Murray said after the defeat. “I think that giving them back their dream of starting a family should be considered a cost of war.”