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Patty M.
Democrat WA

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Patty Murray

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    MURRAY (for herself, Mr. Begich, and Mr. Tester): S. 131. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the reproductive assistance provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to severely wounded, ill, or injured veterans and their spouses, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.



    Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, today I introduce the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2013. I am incredibly proud of the women and men who have served or are serving our Nation in uniform, and I am grateful for the sacrifices they make on our behalf. That is why we must do everything in our power to meet the needs of our veterans and servicemembers. As those needs change, we must ensure the care available keeps pace.

    That is why I introduced legislation, which was signed into law as part of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which helped to transform the way that the Department of Veterans Affairs addresses the needs of women veterans. Among other things, that law required the VA to provide neonatal care, train mental health professionals to provide mental health services for sexual trauma, and develop a child care pilot program. VA has an obligation to provide veterans with quality care and it is our responsibility to make sure that VA does so. The legislation I am introducing today builds upon that effort to make additional improvements to VA's services for women veterans and veterans with families.

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been characterized by increasing use of improvised explosive devices that leave servicemembers, both male and female, at increased risk for blast injuries including spinal cord injury and trauma to the reproductive and urinary systems. Defense Department data show that between 2003 and 2012 nearly 2,000 women and men suffered these types of injuries while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    These devastating and life-changing wounds can destroy the vision these men and women, and their spouses, had for the future. Having a family is one of the cornerstones of life that so many people look forward to and see as a fundamental part of their lives. To have dreams shattered because you were brave enough to put yourself in harm's way for your country is something we can never fully repay. But we must do everything we can.

    As our warriors return from the battlefield, the VA system must be equipped to help injured veterans step back into their lives as parents, spouses, and citizens. These veterans have served honorably and have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great Nation. They deserve the opportunity to pursue their goals and dreams, whether that includes pursuing higher education, finding gainful employment, purchasing their first house, or starting their own family. VA has many programs that help veterans pursue the educational, career, or homeownership dreams and goals that they deferred in service to this country, but it falls short when it comes to helping severely wounded veterans who want to start a family. These veterans often need far more advanced services in order to conceive a child.

    The Department of Defense and the Tricare program are already able to provide advanced fertility treatments, including assisted reproductive technology, to servicemembers with complex injuries. However, not all injured servicemembers are prepared to have a child at the time they are eligible for that coverage, and some are no longer eligible for Tricare by the time they are ready.

    VA's fertility counseling and treatment options are limited and do not meet the complex needs of severely injured veterans. I have heard from seriously wounded veterans whose injuries have made it impossible for them to conceive children naturally. While the details of these stories vary, the common thread that runs through them all is that these veterans were unable to obtain the type of assistance they need. Some have spent tens of thousands of dollars on advanced reproductive treatments in the private sector to get what they need to start a family. Others have watched their marriage collapse because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, drove their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves much better. It is our responsibility to give VA the tools it needs to serve them, and the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act is a start at doing that.

    This legislation also requires VA to build upon existing research framework to gain a better understanding of the long-term reproductive health care needs of veterans, from those who experience severe reproductive and urinary tract trauma to those who experience gender- specific infections in the battlefield. An Army task force charged with looking at the needs of female servicemembers reported that women in the battlefield experience higher rates of urinary tract infections and other women's health difficulties.

    After a decade at war, many women servicemembers are still at increased risk for women's health problems due to deployment conditions and a lack of predeployment women's health information, compounded by privacy and safety concerns. Little is known about the impact that these issues and injuries have on the long-term health care needs of veterans. Additional research will provide critical information to help VA improve services for veterans.

    Caring for children is another frequent problem veterans encounter when trying to get health care. To address this, my legislation provides permanent authority for VA to provide child care to veterans going to medical centers or Vet Centers for health care. A pilot program examining these services is nearing completion and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Those pilots have been very popular with veterans and VA employees, and have been far less expensive than originally estimated.

    This legislation is also fully paid for. VA would be empowered to ask contractors and large corporations to pay a relatively small fee in order to provide the care needed by some of our most seriously wounded veterans. This would not hurt small businesses or veteran owned small businesses, because the Secretary would be given the authority to exempt those small businesses to ensure their ability to compete is not jeopardized.

    Finally, I would point out that last Congress, in fact just a little more than a month ago, these provisions were unanimously approved by the Senate. I think the other Members of this body realized then that we must meet the changing needs of all our servicemembers and veterans, and that regardless of gender we must fulfill our obligation to do everything we can to make whole those who have been injured in service to this country.

    [[Page S287]] I hope all of my colleagues will again support this legislation so we can provide care to meet these most serious needs.

    ______ By Mr. CARPER (for himself, Mr. Durbin, Mrs. Murray, and Mrs. Boxer): S. 132. A bill to provide for the admission of the State of New Columbia into the Union; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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