LOS ANGELES — Army Staff Sgt. Matt Kiel was shot while on patrol in Iraq just six weeks after his wedding. Doctors said he would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never again move his arms or legs — dashing his hopes of raising a family.
But within months of his injuries five years ago, Kiel was breathing on his own and had regained enough function in his left arm to operate a motorized wheelchair. Doctors said he and his wife could start a family through in vitro fertilization.
The couple were overjoyed, until they discovered that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not cover the costly procedure.
“The war takes away so many things from us,” Kiel said. “I don’t think it should take away our ability to have a family.”
Kiel, 31 and living with his wife, Tracy, in Parker, Colo., is among a growing population of veterans whose war wounds make it difficult for them to have children. Advances in battlefield medicine mean troops are surviving catastrophic wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan that might have killed their predecessors in earlier wars. The use of homemade bombs to target foot patrols has left them particularly vulnerable to injuries that can damage their reproductive systems.
More than 1,900 service members have suffered such injuries since 2003, according to Pentagon data provided to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Most are men, but they include a growing number of women. Many could benefit from in vitro fertilization, which is why Murray is pushing for the VA to cover the procedure.
“Providing this service is a cost of war,” Murray said. “There is absolutely no reason we should make these veterans, who have sacrificed so much, wait any longer to be able to realize their dreams of starting or growing their families.”