Injured Veterans Hoping for Kids May Find Financial Help from VA

PHOTO: Andrew and Sara Robinson, of Florence, N.J.Courtesy Andrew Robinson
Andrew and Sara Robinson, of Florence, N.J.

Andrew Robinson doesn't remember the day his Humvee was hit in the middle of Iraq, paralyzing him from the chest down.

The U.S. Marine was part of an convoy traveling through the Anbar province of Iraq on June, 20, 2006, when a roadside bomb exploded, blowing the front off of the vehicle and killing three Marines. Robinson, now 29, and his wife, Sara Robinson, 27, had been planning to start a family after returned from his tour.

"I got to Bethesda [Md.], like five days later, and I started to kind of remember. I was having surgeries every other day, and was told I'm paralyzed from the chest down," he said.

He and his wife wondered if they'd ever be able to have children.

"We asked if it was possible, and people in the VA hospital said yes." Robinson recalled.

Roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have led to an increase in soldiers returning with spinal and reproductive injuries that prevent them from being able to have biological children, according to legislation introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., earlier this year.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not cover the complete cost of some fertility treatments for veterans and their spouses, including surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and sperm donation. For soldiers who are injured but still want to have children when they return from war, the costs of these procedures can prove prohibitive.

"I said [to the VA], 'What do we do for Sara?' and they suggested my wife go to an [obstetrician] to make sure there were no complicating issues," Robinson said. "Tricare [a health care program for uniformed service members] paid for that exam, and then they said that Tricare is not going to pay for anything else."

Andrew and Sara Robinson ended up paying for in vitro fertilization themselves, a procedure that can cost couples between $10,000 and $15,000. The Robinsons received a discount from their fertility doctor, but said they know other couples struggle to cover the costs.

Currently, the VA does cover some fertility services, including diagnostic testing, intrauterine insemination and counseling for the veteran. Murray hopes that the legislation she introduced will broaden that coverage to help pay for fertility treatments for vets and their spouses, including in vitro and sperm donation for soldiers who can no longer produce their own sperm.

"This bill gives those who have sacrificed more than we can imagine the chance to still realize their dream of starting a family," Murray said in a statement to ABC News. "We should never ask these veterans or their families to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to be able to access these services. This is a cost of war that we need to face up to."

Murray's bill passed the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs earlier this month and will go to the floor of the Senate during its next session. She said she is hopeful that both Democrats and Republicans will agree that it is necessary to help cover reproductive costs for injured vets.

Tracy Keil, whose husband, Matt, is an Iraq war veteran who was shot in the neck and paralyzed in 2007, has made coverage for fertility treatments for wounded vets a crusade of hers for the past five years.

"In 2008, I started working on figuring out what was going to be covered as far as fertility services and I found out very quickly that no services were covered for in vitro," said Keil, 34, of Denver. "I didn't have anything wrong with me reproductively, and [Matt's problem] was the direct result of his injury. So I started writing letters, making phone calls to congressmen, and writing to newspapers and magazines."

Keil and a group of about 12 other women whose husbands came back from war injured worked together to draw attention to the issue. They have testified at hearings for Murray's legislation and garnered support from other veterans.

"My husband's injury changed our family, but it shouldn't take away our ability to have a family," Keil told a Senate committee hearing in June.

Tracy and Matt Keil spent more than $30,000 on fertility treatments, resulting in Tracy finally becoming pregnant with triplets in 2010. The couple lost one of their children 20 weeks into the pregnancy, but carried two children to term. Matthew and Faith, their twins, are now nearly 2 years old.

"We all just want them to give us a chance," Tracy Keil said. "It's not always about the money. It's just about being supportive in some way. Nobody's asking for them to pay for every single IVF treatment, you know, 15 treatments. But one or two, give us a chance. That's one of the biggest things: Just give the families an opportunity."

The legislation will likely go to the Senate floor after the November elections or in January, according to Murray's office.