Friday, February 28, 2014

"War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."

"I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one," Tracy Keil told the the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (we covered that hearing in the June 27, 2012 and June 28, 2012 snapshots).

And it shouldn't.

We're going to note this one more time.

That's Senator Patty Murray speaking on the floor of the Senate Thursday  about a very important issue.  For those who need or prefer text, here are her remarks:

“On Tuesday I came here to the floor to discuss one issue we are rarely divided on in this building. 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. The comprehensive veterans 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 to keep that promise? 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?
“Unfortunately our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are indicating they’d prefer to put politics over promises under the guise of an alternative to this bill. Given what we have seen recently on other bills supported by a majority of Americans, I shouldn’t be surprised. But I truly did think this bill would be a different story. Because it contains ideas from both Democrats AND Republicans. Because this is an issue that has historically united this body. And because we have ALL pledged to do whatever it takes on behalf of our veterans. But once again, our colleagues have decided to use unrelated issues to sour this entire effort for the veterans and their families who stand to benefit the most from this comprehensive legislation.
“Additionally, with their alternative bill, they’ve stripped away life changing programs for veterans who are looking to take the skills they’ve learned from the battlefield to the boardroom. They’ve decided to halt the expansion of opportunities for caregivers – who are integral to the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable heroes. But among these – and many other – examples of the Republican effort to derail this landmark legislation, there is one issue I find most egregious: And that is their shameful opposition to providing our catastrophically wounded heroes with access to the reproductive services they so desperately need to start a family.   
“This shouldn’t be a political issue – 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. As we all know, our men and women in uniform have become increasingly susceptible to reproductive, spinal and traumatic brain injuries due to the changing weapons of war. But thanks to modern medicine, many of these servicemembers are being kept alive and are returning home. In fact, as of the New Year, there are 2,348 servicemembers who are living with reproductive, urinary or pelvic injuries. 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.
“Despite returning home from Iraq a quadriplegic, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together. But because his injuries prevented 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, they were turned away. Out of options, the Keil’s decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket for IVF treatment in the private sector – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment. Thankfully, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world after just one round of treatments.
“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.
“It should not be this way. Unfortunately, Republicans are indicating they will not join us in overturning this absurd and antiquated ban. Apparently they’d rather our nation’s heroes spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They don’t see the problem in letting our veterans’ 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 from the gallery here, we unanimously passed this legislation. Unanimously. 
“But here I am today, once again imploring Republicans to stand up and explain to our men and women in uniform – who I know are paying very close attention to this debate – And explain to them why they want to turn their back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars. On Tuesday, I spoke to a crowded room of heroes from Disabled American Veterans – and told them the heartbreaking story of the Keil Family and why we need this critical legislation. And if their cheers and applause are any indication, I’d say they wholeheartedly agree that our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military families deserve this.
“So I’ve come to the floor today to ask my colleagues a simple question: Are you willing to tell all those brave men and women -- that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way -- that you are going to let politics get in the way of our commitment to them? The catastrophic wounds we have seen from injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant that our veterans’ dreams to start a family have been put on hold because of the tremendous cost of IVF services. But we believe that’s a cost of war that VA absolutely should cover and it’s unacceptable to let unrelated issues stand in the way.
“Even the major Veterans Service Organizations and their leaders have said issues like Iran sanctions have no place in this comprehensive veterans legislation. People like American Legion Commander Daniel Dellinger who said, ‘Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war.’
“Or IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who called this comprehensive legislation, ‘a game changer that will change the trajectory for millions of veterans for decades to come.’
“As serious and timely as they may be, unrelated issues like Iran sanctions are calculated attempts to intentionally dismantle our bipartisan effort to expand health care, education opportunities, employment and other benefits for our nation’s heroes. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in separate issues or political grandstanding.
“I’d like to once again 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 will reconsider opposing this common-sense step that will give those who have sacrificed everything the reproductive treatments they need to start a family.”

Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

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