Editorials

Childless military couples deserve fertility benefits

From the editorial board

A Stryker platoon from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment joins in a foot patrol in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in 2012. In addition to protection that keeps them alive, soldiers are increasingly wearing gear that helps protect their male organs from bomb blasts.
A Stryker platoon from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment joins in a foot patrol in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in 2012. In addition to protection that keeps them alive, soldiers are increasingly wearing gear that helps protect their male organs from bomb blasts. Staff file, 2012

The spreadsheets used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help compensate disabled soldiers are filled with cold calculations as horrific as they are necessary.

For a Joint Base Lewis-McChord infantryman who walked point on a foot patrol in Afghanistan and had his body mangled by a buried bomb, monthly payments from the VA vary according to the severity of the damage. He could receive up to $101.50 for the loss of a foot, hand or eye, plus up to $1,300 for two missing legs, and as much as $1,800 more if his arms were taken from him.

The devastating math is enough to make a person cringe. What’s not included in the spreadsheets should make a person angry.

The VA is banned from providing in-vitro fertilization benefits to veterans whose war wounds or injuries have threatened their chance of having kids, and who now seek viable treatments to start a family.

The ban is a relic from a 1992 law that U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, has been trying to change for nearly five years. It applies to men and women released to the VA system, not to service members still on the Pentagon payroll.

Murray’s proposal to pay for IVF, other fertility treatments and adoption resources would tell all veterans that America respects their dream for a family and a legacy. It was scuttled by a few Republicans who have drawn a red line on the politics of reproduction. No matter that they misplaced the line, and that young military couples are stuck on the wrong side of it. No matter that helping these couples has nothing to do with fetal tissue research, Planned Parenthood video revelations or the other social-conservative causes.

“It’s infuriating that veterans are being held hostage for a controversial issue that won’t be resolved anytime soon,” Murray told The News Tribune editorial board last week.

She said she plans to pull the bill out of committee and give it another try this year. We encourage her to use her clout and negotiating skills to get it passed.

The bill was derailed last summer by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina., who said he wants the VA to adequately provide services already on the books before Congress saddles it with new ones. He’s correct that this is a problem; a staggering backlog of disability claims in recent years has caused thousands of veterans to languish on waiting lists, sometimes delaying care for life-threatening conditions. It’s a funding, hiring and accountability problem, which the agency made progress addressing last year.

Tillis’ other motivations are copied straight from the anti-abortion playbook. One of his amendments to Murray’s bill would block the VA from working with organizations that Tillis said “take aborted babies' organs and sell them,” but he gives flimsy evidence that the agency is doing that.

More than three years ago, a 28-year-old Tacoma Army captain and his wife spoke at a news conference to tell of the sacrifice they’d made. He was paralyzed in an airborne training accident, and not having IVF as a veteran’s benefit had cast doubt on their plans to conceive children someday.

It’s shameful that such couples are left to find answers on their own – or else keep waiting while their biological clocks keep ticking.

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