Friday, February 28, 2014







Starting in the US with Senator Patty Murray.

That's Senator Patty Murray speaking on the floor of the Senate today 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.”

Good for Senator Murray.

But I'm really confused here because we've been attending House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings for years and what Senator Murray's calling for and backing has never been seen as controversial in hearings.  It's been seen as needed and no member of either Committee over the years has ever uttered an objection in a hearing.  So these objections that are coming now?  No one offered to the faces of veterans and their families.

Senator Murray notes the Keil's in her statement today.  And no one had an objection when Tracy Keil appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and declared,  "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."

Tracy's husband is Iraq War veteran Matt Keil.  She appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee June 12. Senator Murray was the Chair of the Committee then (she now chairs the Senate Budget Committee and Senator Bernie Sanders now chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee).  Murray had  S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.  to address these issue.  We covered that hearing in the June 27th and June 28th snapshots and let's drop back so we can let Tracy Keil discuss why legislation is needed:

My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craig Hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about in vitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready to start a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the most amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craig  Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were starting to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prevents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.

It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.

Why did Tracy and Matt suffer?

Because there was nothing in place to take their situation into account.  There are many other veterans families in the same situation.  They're not asking for a high rise or a shiny car, they just want to be able to have a family.  And they can.  It is medically possible.

Matt Keil didn't say, "Hey, I want a vacation.  I think I'll go to Ramadi and work on my tan."  The US government sent him to Iraq and that is where he was injured.  How dare anyone in Congress think they can ignore his needs now.

And there was no objection in the Senate in 2012.  The following year, US House Rep Rick Larsen noted, "The Senate unanimously approved a version of this bill authored by Sen. Patty Murray last year, but the House did not act on the companion legislation that Larsen had introduced before the end of the 112th Congress. Murray reintroduced the Senate version of the bill earlier this year."  So in 2012, universal support and, two years later, someone's 'rethought' it?  Maybe they need to explain to the veterans?  Rick Larsen is a Democrat.  He made his observation when he and Republican House member Steve Stivers joined together to introduce similar legislation in the House.

It also needs to be pointed out that DoD  provides this service  for service members.  It's just VA that's not providing it for veterans.  It is thought that the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War have produced approximately 2,000 veterans who could utilize this service.  Why are they being denied it?  How does this not fall under needed health care.

The costs would not 'break the bank' and it really is the right thing to do.  To quote Tracy Keil one more time, "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."  Shame on anyone in the US Congress who can't grasp -- or refuses to grasp -- that.

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