In what sounds like a bad summer action movie, members of Congress are being called on to defend injured U.S. soldiers against a small but fierce coalition of religious extremists.
Sadly, this battle is actually happening this week in our nation’s capital, and the extremists, though outnumbered, appear to be getting the upper hand.
The fight is over whether veterans hurt in Iraq and Afghanistan should receive medical help they need to have children.
An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 injured veterans need reproductive services that aren’t being paid for because of an outdated law prohibiting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from providing in vitro fertilization (IVF).
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has fought for these benefits since 2012 and finally won bipartisan passage of her legislation in the Senate this year.
But the U.S. House mysteriously refused to sign on, blocking her relatively tiny amendment to the massive military construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill.
The reason was unclear until it surfaced this week that the conservative Family Research Council is pushing back because it’s religiously opposed to the treatments veterans could receive. IVF can lead to fertilized eggs being discarded.
Never mind that Congress has already worked through this moral quandary and agreed to fund IVF for currently serving soldiers.
But because of a 1992 law, passed long before IVF became a mainstream treatment, the government is denying this benefit to a small and dwindling number of injured veterans who need this help to have children and improve their quality of life.
Affected are female soldiers whose uteruses were damaged by shrapnel and male soldiers injured by roadside bombs.
One is Jeff Lynch, a retired Army sergeant who received a brain injury affecting fertility while serving southeast of Baghdad. He had just volunteered for another tour, after previously being hurt in a convoy bombing.
A military brat who attended high school at Clover Park and Lakeside, Lynch, 31, now lives in North Carolina with his wife, Christy. They tried IVF but ran out of money before it succeeded.
Now they’re lobbying for Murray’s provision, along with the Wounded Warrior Project, for themselves and friends, such as a quadriplegic whose only choice to have kids is IVF.
“We want to fight this battle with the people who should ultimately be responsible for this, and that’s Congress,” said Christy Lynch, 29.
What about the religious argument?
“Our response to that is: What’s more pro-life than creating life?” Christy Lynch said. “It’s not that we’re asking Congress to make an exception for veterans and provide something they don’t provide someone else.”
Murray is incensed. She believes the same religious activists are holding up funding for the Zika response because it would involve family planning while a vaccine is developed.
She noted how outrageous it is that America sends soldiers to fight zealots imposing their religion on the people of Afghanistan, then imposes extreme religious beliefs on those soldiers when they return home.
After failing to repeal the 1992 prohibition on funding IVF for veterans, Murray succeeded with a spending-bill provision that would provide $88 million to fund treatments over the next two years.
That’s among the items being haggled over as the House and Senate reconcile their spending plans during the flurry before their summer vacation.
There should be no question about providing what’s now a standard treatment to men and women who sacrificed their bodies in service to their country.
Murray’s provision must be included in the military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriation.
Any member of Congress who denies this benefit and shows so little empathy for injured veterans trying to grow families should have to publicly explain themselves.
“I went to Iraq and advocated for them on the battlefield,” Lynch said. “Now they need to advocate for me.”