Infertility and the Military

29 Aug
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There is a Bill before the Senate that has made the headlines this week (NY times Op Ed page 26 August 2912) which merges two seemingly completely unrelated quantities: disabled American veterans and the search for fertility insurance coverage. As currently written, this bill would allow infertility benefits for disabled veterans who now need them. On the surface, the decision seems to be simple and straight-forward; a paying back for the sacrifices made in the name of country to those in need. But at a deeper level I believe that this makes more sense in a much broader sense.

I’ve become interested in this topic for two reasons. First, obviously I am a Reproductive Endocrinologist (REI) working in the field, but secondly and just as important, I am also a veteran of 24 years active duty through our last two wars and far too many miles.

I was an REI during the time frame when the success of IVF technologies made application of these protocols to smaller clinic systems both successful and practicable. Since the overwhelming majority of active duty personnel are male, even the presence of gynecologists and fertility specialists on military bases seemed senseless to most generals and those who ran the system. They could not understand why we needed any of these services.

When we tried to open the first working IVF clinic in the military at Lackland AFB, Texas’s WIlford Hall Medical Center in the late 1980s, the opposition we faced was overwhelming in the negative input by those with the narrow view. We got absolutely nowhere in our discussions, until it was pointed out to the generals that it takes nearly $100,000 to train a pilot. With the advance of technology and the drones etc. it now takes very large amounts of training and costs to provide for the modern military.

One of the reasons that the most costly pieces of manpower the military has (pilots) were giving us for leaving the military was not to avoid getting shot at, but to get access to medical therapies such as in vitro. When it was further pointed out to the brass that an entire one-year IVF program could be run for all those who need it can be covered by the costs of fuel for 1 practice flight in a B-1 bomber, it became understandable to them and we indeed were allowed to open our doors.

Therefore on the surface, approving coverage for IVF for disabled vets is correct to give back to those who can no longer function normally due to injuries sustained in the line of duty. Further it makes much more sense to this simple thinker that allowing for coverage for military members with much broader guidelines would be feasible with very little alteration in military appropriations, if any.

Those who voluntarily stand in harm’s way for us deserve no less. It is one thing to thank the soldier you see at the airport for their service, but another thing altogether when we help them to lead a life we all desire, by having a family. Support for this bill sponsored by Senator Patty Murray of Washington can be obtained by contacting your representatives and senators.

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