"Appalling" law prevents IVF coverage for veterans

Government refusing to pay for veterans' IVF ... 04:53

Servicemen and women who are wounded in war have to rebuild their lives, and the goal of having a family keeps many of them going. But an act by Congress decades ago is still preventing some veterans from achieving that goal, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

Some of the stories are heartbreaking; veterans who have sacrificed almost everything for our country, and now have life-changing injuries that prevent them from having children naturally -- and a law from 23-years ago that forces the VA to say, esssentially, you're on your own.

As they looked toward their future, Alex and Holly Dillmann always dreamed it would include children.

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But in his second tour in Afghanistan, Alex, an Army Staff Sgt. and squad leader, was critically injured by a roadside bomb. He had 25 surgeries and spent more than a year in the hospital.

What got Alex and Holly through the ordeal were their dreams for the future.

"We would talk about what our life was going to be like when we got out of the hospital," Holly said. "That was getting a house, that was getting our dog -- that was Alex returning back to work, getting a career, and that was having a child one day."

But that dream drifted further away when they were told Alex's injuries had left him paralyzed from the waist down.

"We can't even try to have kids on our own, because of his injuries," Holly said. "We can't. We have got to utilize the technology offered to us by in vitro fertilization."

The Dillmanns are not alone. The wars of the last decade have seen thousands of veterans like Alex return home with devastating injuries from bomb blasts, leaving them unable to conceive naturally.

Coming home with hopes of rebuilding a normal life, they instead face a harsh reality: the government does not cover the expense of in vitro fertilization, known as IVF.

"Having to accept and then deal with the fact that they have these types of injuries is one thing, but then saying that you're not going to be given the help that you need to be able to work with what you've got, I mean... it's very insulting," Holly said.

The VA can't help because conservative opponents in Congress 23 years ago passed a law blocking the VA from paying the costs of IVF treatment for veterans.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington has worked for five years to change the law.

"It's appalling," Murray said. "I am so frustrated because it just seems like this is something that is so common sense, so right, so what we, as a country, should be doing."

The Pentagon pays for fertility treatment for servicemembers in active duty, but it's a benefit many wounded warriors can't take advantage of during their recoveries.

"It's really unrealistic for soldiers in my position, with the types of injuries they have, to be juggling both those things -- rehab and trying to start a family," Alex said.

Six months before he was discharged from the Army, Alex and his wife went through their first round of IVF. When it failed they quickly tried another before the government's window closed.

"Not only are we going through the IVF, which can be stressful in and of itself, but we were doing so under the pressure of needing to have them done prior to him retiring. I mean, that's a lot of pressure and then there's the emotional component of being reminded that we can't do this ourselves," Alex said.

There now is bipartisan support for change, but the roadblock today is cost. Opponents question how the government will pay for the treatments which can run into tens of thousands of dollars for each treatment.

"They are hiding right now behind finances," Murray said. "When it comes to taking care of our veterans, money should never be an excuse for procedures that allow them to be whole again."

The Dillmanns are trying again. In their new home, built by a veterans group, a nursery sits furnished with books and clothes and a crib that lays empty.

"It's been stressful, we've had to sacrifice and we're just ready to move on with our life and... have a family, just like anybody else, and have that dream. We want-- we want the American Dream," Holly said.

Holly and Alex are starting anther round -- out of pocket -- this month. They are hoping for a boy. If all goes as planned that boy's middle name will be Kristopher, in memory of Sgt. Kristopher Gould, who died in the blast that paralyzed Alex.

Alex says Sgt. Gould had the heart of a lion, something he hopes will be passed on to his son.