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Wounded vets can’t get help with in vitro fertilization costs

For many veterans, the physical and psychological wounds of war are invisible. But for some, the lasting effects of their service are all too visible: They can’t have children.

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is an expensive and emotionally grueling process in which eggs are fertilized in a lab and then implanted in the womb. It can cost up to $20,000 per cycle, and most couples need more than one cycle to conceive.

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not cover the cost of IVF, even for veterans who were wounded in combat. That means many veterans who want to start a family are left to pay for the procedure entirely out of pocket.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Sean Riordan, a Marine Corps veteran and father of two who is lobbying for the VA to cover IVF. “Having children is something that a lot of couples want to do.”

Riordan, who was wounded in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2006, said he and his wife spent about $60,000 on IVF before they had their first child. They had their second child using a different fertility treatment that was covered by their insurance.

“It’s a lot of money for a lot of people,” Riordan said. “For a lot of veterans, it’s just not possible.”

The VA does cover some fertility treatments, such as insemination and surgery to correct problems with the reproductive organs. But IVF is not among them.

There is no federal law mandating that insurers cover fertility treatments, so coverage varies widely. Some states have laws requiring insurers to cover IVF, but those laws often have exceptions for religious employers or people who object to the procedure on moral or ethical grounds.

The military covers IVF for service members and veterans who were wounded in combat, but only if they were injured after Sept. 11, 2001.

Riordan said he thinks the VA should cover IVF for all veterans, not just those who were wounded in combat.

“Veterans who have been through multiple deployments are coming home with PTSD and other psychological injuries that can impact their ability to have children,” he said. “IVF can give them the chance to have a family, and I don’t think that should be determined by whether or not they were wounded in combat.”

U.S. military veterans who are having trouble starting families due to combat injuries do not get financial assistance from the V.A. for in vitro fertilization, leaving couples to pay for the costly treatments themselves. Efforts made in Congress to change that rule have been blocked. William Brangham reports.