Sprawling VA reform bill moving through Senate with Murray jobs, fertility measures

Staff writerFebruary 25, 2014 

Sen. Patty Murray. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

ELAINE THOMPSON — AP

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is getting behind a sprawling bill that would prod the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer more education benefits, fertility resources and sex assault treatment programs.

The bill includes a provision that would compel the VA to offer in vitro fertilization services to veterans and their spouses. Expanding those services for veterans who suffer fertility complications because of service-connected injuries has been one of Murray’s priorities for several years.

“Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family,” Murray said Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

“They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more,” she said.

The bill, written by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, passed a Senate procedural step Tuesday by a vote of 99-0. Lawmakers are expected to continue revising it before sending it to the House.

The bill would renew legislation Murray’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, which expanded career assistance programs for troops leaving the military and veterans of past conflicts.

Murray in 2012 held a press conference in Seattle in which she brought together military families who have struggled to conceive because of injuries they suffered in training incidents.

The VA, likewise, has some fertility programs but does not pay for in vitro fertilization, the process of mixing sperm and an egg in a laboratory. That procedure can cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Murray earlier this month signed on as a cosponsor to Sanders’ comprehensive VA reform bill.

It has provisions that would:

 

  • Require the VA to study for two years whether it should provide grief counseling in group retreat settings for surviving spouses of troops who died on active duty.
  • Allow the VA to open 27 new medical clinics to expand access to care in remote areas.
  • Compel the VA to offer gym memberships for two years to overweight veterans who live more than 15 minutes from a VA fitness facility.
  • Open support programs to caregivers and family members of veterans suffering from mental illnesses.
  • Expand VA dental care offerings.
  • Allow active-duty troops to receive treatment for military sexual trauma at VA facilities.
  • Require the VA to develop a screening tool to identify victims of domestic violence and provide them better care.

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