WASHINGTON — A House bill considered Wednesday provides $20,000 in special compensation to veterans whose combat wounds leave them unable to have children.
Veterans who lose the use of reproductive organs deserve the additional payments due to the unique injuries and could use the money on adoption, said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who sponsored the bill.
But the bill is opposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and straddles a political fault line in Congress over reproductive services for veterans. It also drew concerns from the group Paralyzed Veterans of America over fairness to wounded women.
The debate has heated up due to a grim fact about the widespread use of improvised explosive devices against U.S. forces, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan — thousands of troops are suffering traumatic wounds to their genitals and spines that make it difficult or impossible to procreate.
"A veteran could choose to use this benefit to defray adoption fees or to buy a house large enough to take care of foster children that they may be bringing into their home," said Miller, who is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Any veteran would be eligible if their reproductive organs were lost or paralyzed due to a service injury. The bill provides for two special monthly payments of $10,000, which Miller said could be used to cover adoption costs that can range from $5,000 to $40,000 — or in any other way a wounded veteran sees fit.
He said the compensation would be in addition to the typical VA disability payment of $100 per month for wounds to reproductive organs.
"Although veterans appreciate this benefit it does not adequately compensate the veteran for the unique nature of an injury that prevents their ability to have a family," Miller said.
The VA said it opposes Miller's bill because it already provides monthly monetary compensation for injuries to reproductive organs.
"The lump-sum payments would also be a departure from the VA's long-standing benefit payment structure and inequitable to veterans with other severe disabilities," said David McLenachen, the VA deputy under secretary for disability assistance.
For example, the measure could be unfair because veterans who lost the ability to speak due to service-related injuries would get no additional compensation, he said.
"It is VA's position that all these veterans should be treated the same," McLenachen said.
The bill was heard Wednesday by a veterans affairs subcommittee, a first step in the legislative process in the House.
The Senate has repeatedly rejected efforts to expand fertility treatments to wounded veterans due to opposition over in vitro fertilization, a process that can be effective in helping people with spinal injuries to have children. Conservatives in Congress successfully banned the VA from providing the service more than two decades ago.
Wounded veterans are now forced to pay for the costly fertility procedures from private providers outside of the VA. The $20,000 in special compensation would likely be spent in some cases on in vitro fertilization, despite opposition from conservatives.
About 1,400 troops suffered severe genital injuries during the past 15 years of war and thousands more had spinal injuries that could preclude having children, according to Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The group said Miller's bill does not address the central issue, which is the in vitro fertilization ban within the VA. Furthermore, it would fall far short on other fertility procedures used by female veterans, such paying for a surrogate to carry a fertilized egg.
Private in vitro fertilization to assist men who have reproductive problems on average costs about $10,000 for one round of treatment, which could be covered by the special compensation in the bill, said Carl Blake, associate executive director of veterans health care at PVA.
"The cost of gestational surrogacy can range anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000 and those are the options that most often a woman veteran with the catastrophic injury that precludes their ability to have children has to rely upon," he said.