Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village) offered two amendments during a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee mark-up. The Brownley amendments would help veterans start families and improve health care services for catastrophically-disabled or blinded veterans.
Brownley’s first amendment to the Fair Treatment for Families of Veterans Act (H.R. 4087) would have authorized the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide veterans — who have service-connected reproductive injuries — with coverage for up to three cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pay the cost for up to three domestic adoptions. Under a 1993 law, the VA is currently not allowed to help veterans pay for IVF or adoptions, even if their inability to start a family stems from an injury that the veteran sustained while serving in the Armed Forces.
“As a mother, I know that there is no greater joy in life than having a family,” said Brownley. “The brave men and women who have served our country in uniform, and have been wounded in the line-of-duty, deserve that same opportunity to have children. No veteran should have to pay out of pocket for a service-connected disability.”
The underlying bill, the Fair Treatment for Families of Veterans Act (H.R. 4087), would provide up to $20,000 to service-connected veterans who have lost the use of so-called creative organs. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the average cost of an IVF cycle is $12,500 and the cost of a domestic adoption can be as high as $40,000. Brownley’s amendment would have covered the full cost.
Although her amendment was not adopted, Brownley has pledged to continue to fight for veterans who are ready to start families of their own. The bipartisan language of the Brownley amendment was supported by Senators Murray (D-WA) and Isakson (R-GA), as well as other Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Brownley’s second amendment would have authorized the VA to provide travel benefits to non-service connected catastrophically disabled and blinded veterans to access VA’s network of inpatient specialty rehabilitation centers.
“Blinded and catastrophically-disabled veterans are already eligible for specialty rehabilitation services at these clinics, but many cannot afford the cost of the trip,” said Brownley. “This benefit would mean the world to aging veterans who lose their eyesight and need to learn the skills necessary to stay in their own home and to veterans who are paralyzed in an accident and need to re-learn basic life skills to remain independent.”
Under current law, the VA covers travel costs for all veterans requiring medical care for service-connected injuries. However, VA does not provide travel reimbursement for blinded or catastrophically disabled non-service connected veterans requiring medical care. Because many of these veterans are low-income or living on very limited fixed budgets, they simply cannot afford the plane ticket to get to VA’s specialty rehabilitation clinics. Brownley’s amendment would have authorized the VA to pay for this travel.
During the discussion, Chairman Miller voiced his concerns about the amendment. Congresswoman Brownley decided to withdraw the amendment to continue to seek bipartisan consensus on the language.
Brownley’s original bill (H.R. 288) was supported by both the Blinded Veterans Association and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). In the letter dated January 13, 2015, PVA stated, “Your effort to expand VA’s beneficiary travel benefit to this population of severely disabled veterans will lead to an increasing number of catastrophically disabled veterans receiving quality, timely, comprehensive care, and result in long-term cost savings for the VA.”