VA will pay for fertility treatment for wounded vets, but only for two years
When his convoy was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2007, Army sergeant Jeff Lynch was seriously wounded. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, was hospitalized for months, and underwent more than a hundred surgeries.
His injuries also left him unable to father children.
"At that time, you're not thinking of kids," Lynch said. "You're worried about if you're going to survive."
Thousands of veterans have suffered combat injuries that left them infertile like Lynch. Now, for the first time, the VA will pay for treatments to help them have children.
It's been a battle for veterans to get here. After Lynch left the military, he and his wife Christy decided they wanted a family. They had one child, but a second baby died shortly after birth. Now, the lingering effects of his injuries — and his medications — have left them unable to have children naturally.
The Lynches explored in vitro fertilization, but the procedure's $15,000 price tag was daunting.
"It was something we weren't comfortable putting all of that money into without having a guaranteed outcome,” Christy said.
Veterans advocates estimate that up to 2,000 former service members could be candidates for IVF because of military related fertility problems. But the cost is out of reach for many wounded vets, and since 1992, Congress has banned the Department of Veterans Affairs from paying for it under veterans benefits.
That ban has now been lifted under legislation passed in October.
"We all say when someone serves their country, we are there for them when they come home," said Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who fought to overturn the ban. "Certainly allowing them to fulfill their dream of having a family ought to be part of what's there for them when they return."
Murray said it was difficult to remove the ban because of resistance from conservative members of Congress.
"Individual lawmakers were making a decision having to do with a woman's right to choose, not about making sure these men and women could fulfill their dream through IVF," she said.
Christy and Jeff Lynch were among several couples who lobbied lawmakers for the bill. They encountered the same concerns.
"One of the questions we were asked was what do you plan to do with your leftover embryos," Christy said. "The response that we had was it's none of your business what we choose to do with our leftover embryos. Those are ours."
The new law actually came too late to help the Lynches. By the time it passed, they had already undergone IVF through a doctor who treats wounded vets for a reduced fee.
And now they're expecting twins.
The Lynches' small house in Apex, N.C. is already crowded with toys that belong to their 7-year-old daughter CateLyn, and the tight space is about to get tighter.
But Jeff Lynch says they'll make it work for now.
"I just want her and the two babies to come out healthy,” Jeff said. “That's all I want."
And Christy wants all wounded veterans to have the option of using IVF under their VA benefits. The new law is only temporary. It expires in two years. And Christy plans to keep fighting to make it permanent.
"Jeff has a friend who is almost like a brother to him who is a paraplegic," Christy said. "We didn't want him in his future wife to have to fight this battle."