(The Daily Signal) – The Pentagon plans to cover advanced fertility treatments for same-sex and unmarried couples, Military.com reported, citing court documents unsealed recently as part of an ongoing lawsuit.
Certain military hospitals offer donor gametes and in vitro fertilization to married troops at a cost, or free to those whose infertility can be connected to a service-related injury, according to Military.com. The military health system plans to introduce a rule change expanding that coverage to unmarried service members, nixing the requirement that recipients be married and permitting the use of donor eggs or sperm, the documents viewed by the outlet said.
“[The Defense Department] is in the process of determining the exact contours of these policy changes and expects to finalize and share with plaintiff a signed memorandum by the end of February 2024 that formally directs the changes and provides further details on their scope,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote, according to Military.com.
Advocates claimed the DOD’s existing policy discriminated against same-sex couples and single troops, according to Military.com.
In August, the National Organization for Women, the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, and the National Veterans Legal Services Program sued the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs based on that claim. They also allege the policy violates the Affordable Care Act, which bans sex-based discrimination.
“Infertility is pervasive within the military community, leaving thousands of veterans and service members struggling to build their families,” the complaint states. Research shows that veterans and service members experience higher rates of infertility than the general population, often as a result of the physical hardships they undergo in service, according to the groups.
The VA is reviewing its policy in consideration of the DOD’s changes, the documents seen by Military.com state. An extension on the case was granted while the VA deliberates the DOD’s planned changes.
“We applaud the Department of Defense for working to expand access to fertility treatments for service members,” Sonia Ossorio, executive director of NOW NYC, said in a statement, according to Military.com. “We are overjoyed for our military members who may only now qualify for coverage and desperately need this care to build a family.”
The Pentagon’s current policy pays for in vitro fertilization, counseling, and select assisted reproductive technologies just for married service members with service-related infertility, according to Military.com. Some married troops can pay for in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination at one of seven military-operated facilities. The military’s health plan, TRICARE, has limited care options mostly related to diagnosing issues and does not cover most reproductive assistance procedures.
“There are limitations on services that VA can provide to include to legally married, same-sex couples, [limitations] that we think are not in keeping with our requirement to care for all veterans,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in May.