Senate Democrats on Tuesday filibustered a spending bill they say Republicans loaded with unacceptable provisions — namely inadequate funding to fight the Zika virus and restrictions on funding for the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The bill has already passed the House, but looks unlikely to become law pass unless Democrats and President Obama change their minds.
But the supplemental Zika money isn’t the only thing blocked by the impasse: the bill, which funds military housing and construction projects as well as Veterans Affairs, also contains funding inserted by Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would allow the VA to cover the costs of in vitro fertilization for veterans and their families.
Currently, active-duty servicemembers are covered for these services. But after retirement, veterans are on their own. The policy affects an estimated 1,800 veterans, some of whom cannot have children naturally because of injuries sustained in combat.
Veterans who suffered combat injuries and their spouses were on Capitol Hill earlier this month with the Wounded Warrior Project to lobby Congress to overturn the ban and fund the in vitro coverage.
Matt Keil was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot while on tour in 2007 in Iraq. He and his wife expected the VA to cover IVF.
“We were devastated when we learned that” the agency wouldn’t cover the service, Keil said. “It was approximately $32,000. My wife and I took on some credit card debt, I even took out a home equity line on my home, my handicap-accessible home, in order to have kids.”
The NewsHour covered one couple in this situation, Jason and Rachel Hallett, earlier this year. Since then, Rachel became pregnant using IVF services the couple paid for on their own.
In addition to posting sonogram pictures of her twins on Facebook, Hallett is still advocating for veteran couples to get VA coverage for the services.
“As long as this isn’t covered, the government sent our military to war on a lie to take care of any injuries received during their service. So disappointing that this still can’t seem to pass!” Hallett said in an email after the vote.
Murray has tried for six years to get the VA to change its policy. A law passed in 1992 led to a ban of IVF at the agency, and advocates for a change in the policy say it’s difficult to understand why Republicans have blocked a vote on overturning the ban.
But an email obtained by the NewsHour that was sent from the conservative Family Research Council to staff members on Capitol Hill urging members to oppose Murray’s amendment this month highlights the pro-life lobby’s concerns. Embryos created in IVF procedures are sometimes discarded, which pro-life groups like the Family Research Council consider akin to abortion.
“The Senate language that passed in committee is terrible, and is broad enough to cover ‘reproductive technologies’ from IVF, to human cloning, to 3 parent embryos!” the email read.
However, the Murray language passed the Senate in an earlier vote, and remained as part of the House-Senate compromise bill the House passed last week.
The ongoing debate over Zika funding — which centered on how much to spend on the disease, and a fight over shifting money earmarked for the Ebola crisis to Zika — is the main culprit for the stalemate this time, though Democrats also opposed cuts to the Affordable Care Act and funding for women’s health centers and Planned Parenthood.
Regardless of the reason for the gridlock, injured veterans who want to have children will have to wait for the government to cover those costs.