FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 (202) 224-2834
Sen. Murray Addresses Landmark Veterans Legislation Focused on Those Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
Bill is one of the most inclusive pieces of veterans legislation to come before Senate in decades
Murray continues push for IVF coverage at VA; shares inspirational story about quadriplegic veteran and wife’s struggle to start a family
WASHINGTON, D.C. – TODAY, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate to highlight some of her priorities included in a comprehensive veterans bill that will improve the lives of our nation’s servicemembers, veterans, and their survivors. “The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014” is a top priority for veterans and nearly every veterans service organization. Sen. Murray discussed provisions to reauthorize and expand her “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” as well as efforts to improve delivery of care for victims of military sexual assault. Sen. Murray also highlighted her provision in the legislation to provide reproductive services, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), to veterans and their families who have suffered catastrophic wounds of war that prevent them from starting families. This provision was the first piece of legislation Senator Murray introduced in the 113th Congress. Currently, VA is specifically barred from providing these services. While the legislation being considered this week focuses on the newest generation of veterans, it also includes many provisions that aim to help veterans of previous conflicts.
“This comprehensive legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation? I hope we can.”
“Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more.”
“Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. And they shouldn’t have to. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in unrelated amendments or political grandstanding.”
Click here to learn more about “The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.”
“It’s no secret that here in our nation’s capital we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now. But I’ve come to the floor today to discuss one issue we are rarely divided on. And that is our duty to keep the promise we’ve made to provide not only care - but opportunity - to all those who’ve honorably served in our nation’s Armed Forces. It unites even the most unlikely partners because we realize that: We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve. And we all need to keep it because there’s so much on the line. When our brave men and women volunteered to protect our nation, we promised them that we would take care of them and their families when they return home.
“We need to ask ourselves, are we doing enough for our nation’s veterans?
“This comprehensive legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation? I hope we can.
“And I say that because the investments in this bill are a lot more than numbers on a page. They are life changing programs for veterans who are looking to take the skills they’ve learned from the battlefield to the boardroom. It’s support for the countless victims of military sexual assault, desperate to come out of the shadows. It’s providing the dream of having a family to those suffering from some of the most devastating wounds of war. It’s timely investments - in the very biggest priorities of our nation’s heroes.
“ I’d like to use the remainder of my time to highlight just a few of the investments included in this bill and how they translate into the lives of our veterans and their families. For those who have worn our nation’s uniform - and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away: The road home isn’t always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy. We know this shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t let the skills and training our nation’s veterans have attained go to waste. We can’t afford to have our nation’s heroes unable to find a job to support their families, without an income that provides stability, or without work that provides the pride and sense of purpose that is so critical to the transition home.
“And that’s why I’m proud the legislation we’re considering today reauthorizes and builds on many of the provisions that were part of my ‘VOW to Hire Heroes Act,’ which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011. Double-digit unemployment rates for veterans used to be the norm – but since VOW became law, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is on par with non-veterans. And while recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics prove that these programs work, there’s much more to be done.
“I also believe the great strength of our military is in the character and dedication of our men and women who wear the uniform. It is the courage of these Americans, to volunteer to serve, that is the Pentagon’s greatest asset. Our servicemembers volunteer to face danger, to put their lives on the line, to protect the country and all its people. It’s no longer a secret that sexual assault continues to plague the ranks of our military services – which is another issue this comprehensive legislation seeks to address. I think we all agree that it is absolutely unconscionable that a fellow servicemember, the person you rely on to have your back and to be there for you, would commit such a terrible crime. Even worse is the prevalence of these crimes. It is simply appalling they could commit such a personal violation of their brother or sister in uniform. The National Defense Authorization Act we passed last year took historic action to help servicemembers access to the resources they need to seek justice without fear. Including a provision I authored to create a new category of legal advocates, called Special Victims’ Counsels, who would be responsible for advocating on behalf of the interests of the victim.
“But we still have a long road ahead before we put an end to these shameful acts and provide all the necessary resources to those who have unfortunately been impacted. Thankfully the Chairman’s legislation aims to do just that with provisions to improve the delivery of care and benefits to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. Because when our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people. But that sacrifice should not have to come in the form of unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks.
“And finally, I’d like to talk about a provision that has been one of my top priorities in the Senate for a while now – It’s a provision that builds upon our efforts to improve VA’s services for women veterans and veterans with families. As you all know, with the changing nature of our conflicts overseas, we have been seeing the brutal impact of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Which means we are now seeing more and more servicemembers – male and female -- increasingly susceptible to reproductive, spinal and traumatic brain injuries due to these weapons of war. Now, thanks to modern medicine, many of these servicemembers are being kept alive and were returning home. And like so many of our veterans, these men and women come home looking to return to their lives, to find employment, and so often to start a family. Yet what they find when they go to the VA is that the fertility services available don’t meet their complex needs. In fact, veterans suffering from these injuries find that the VA is specifically barred from providing more advanced assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. They are told that despite the fact they have made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we cannot provide them with the medical services they need to start a family.
“Veterans like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil and his wife Tracy. Staff Sergeant Keil was shot in the neck while on patrol in Iraq in 2007, just 6 weeks after he married the love of his life – Tracy. The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit a major artery, went through his spinal cord, and exited through his left shoulder blade. Staff Sergeant Keil instantly became a quadriplegic. Doctors informed Tracy her husband would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, and would never move his arms or legs. But Staff Sergeant Keil eventually defied the odds and found himself off the ventilator and beginning the long journey of physical rehabilitation. In fact, Tracy and her husband even started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together. Having children was all they could talk about, once they adjusted to their new normal.
“So, with Staff Sergeant Keil’s injuries preventing him from having children naturally, Tracy turned to the VA and began to explore her options for fertility treatments. But because of the VA ban, she was turned away. And Tracy and Staff Sergeant Keil decided instead to pursue IVF through the private sector. Out of options, the Keil’s decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment. Thankfully, on November 9, 2010, just after their first round of IVF, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world.
“Tracy told me, ‘The day we had our children something changed in both of us. This is exactly what we had always wanted, our dreams had arrived. The VA, Congress and the American People have said countless times that they want to do everything they can to support my husband or make him feel whole again and this is your chance. Having a family is exactly what we needed to feel whole again. Please help us make these changes so that other families can share in this experience.’
“Tracy and Matt are not alone. There are many men and women out there who share this common thread of a desperate desire to fulfill their dream of starting a family only to find the catastrophic wounds they sustained while defending our country are now preventing them from seeing that dream through. As you all know, it should not be this way. Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more. Because we came VERY close to making this bill a reality last Congress.
“In fact, with Tracy Keil watching form the gallery – like so many of our heroes who have joined us here today – With Tracy watching, the Senate unanimously passed this legislation. But unfortunately Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to take up and pass this bill. This meant the time ran out and we were unable to get it to the President’s desk. But this effort is far from over. This provision was the very first piece of legislation I introduced in the new Congress. And there has been excellent momentum to get it done. Because this is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family. It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars. It says to all those brave men and women that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way, that we won’t let politics get in the way of our commitment to you.
“This provision will reverse this troubling barrier to care and will bring the VA in line with the military which provides these services under Tricare. Our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military families deserve this.
“So, I’m here today to urge my colleagues to support the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. And they shouldn’t have to. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in unrelated amendments or political grandstanding. I’d like to thank the Senator from Vermont and his staff for their tireless work to work to bring this legislation here to the floor.
“I hope our colleagues do right by our nation’s heroes and keep their promise by supporting this critical bill.”
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