BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President today, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I introduce the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012. I am incredibly proud of the women and men who have served or are serving our nation in uniform, and I strongly believe we must do all that we can to honor them.
That is why I introduced legislation, which was signed into law as part of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which helped to transform the way that the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA, addresses the needs of women veterans. Among other things, this law required the VA to provide neonatal care, train mental health professionals to provide mental health services for sexual trauma, and develop a child care pilot program. VA has an obligation to provide veterans with quality care and we have an obligation to make sure that VA does so. The legislation I am introducing today builds upon that effort to make additional improvements to VA's services for women veterans and veterans with families.
The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers, both male and female, at increased risk for blast injuries including spinal cord injury and trauma to the reproductive and urinary tracts. Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 more than 600 women and men experienced these life-changing battle injuries while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
As they return from the battlefield, the VA system must be equipped to help injured veterans step back into their lives as parents, spouses, and citizens. These veterans have served honorably and have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation. They deserve the opportunity to pursue their goals and dreams, whether that includes pursuing higher education, finding gainful employment, purchasing their first house, or starting their own family. VA has many programs that help veterans pursue the educational, career, or homeownership dreams and goals that they deferred in service to this country, yet it falls short when it comes to helping severely wounded veterans who want to start a family. These veterans often need far more advanced services in order to conceive a child.
The Department of Defense and the Tricare program are already able to provide advanced fertility treatments, including assisted reproductive technology, to servicemembers with complex injuries. However; not all injured servicemembers are well situated to have a child at the time they are eligible for that coverage, and some are no longer eligible for Tricare by the time they are ready.
VA's fertility counseling and treatment options are limited and do not meet the complex needs of severely injured veterans. I have heard from severely injured veterans whose injuries have made it impossible for them to conceive children naturally. While the details of these stories vary, the common thread that runs through them all is that these veterans were unable to obtain the type of assistance they need. Some have spent tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. Others have watched their marriage dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, drove their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more. It is our responsibility to give VA the tools it needs to serve them, and the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act is a start at doing that.
This legislation also requires VA to build upon existing research framework to gain a better understanding of the long-term reproductive health care needs of veterans, from those who experience severe reproductive and urinary tract trauma to those who experience gender-specific infections in the battlefield. A recent Army Task Force Report found that women in the battlefield experience high rates of urinary tract infections and other women's health conditions. After a decade at war, many women servicemembers are still at increased risk for women's health difficulties due to deployment conditions and a lack of predeployment women's health information, compounded by privacy and safety concerns. Little is known about the impact that these issues and injuries have on the long-term health care needs of veterans. Additional research will provide critical information to help VA improve services for veterans.
VA has come a long way in addressing the unique health needs and challenges that women face. Yet for all of its recent progress, VA can and must do more to ensure that women veterans are receiving the care that they need and deserve. Work remains to make VA a friendly environment for women veterans and veterans with families. Many women veterans are single mothers, making it difficult for them to take full advantage of the services that VA offers. The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act creates a pilot program that provides child care to veterans seeking readjustment counseling at VA's Vet Centers. It also helps VA ensure that women veterans can get the information that they need in order to access VA health care and benefits.
This is not a section by section review of all the provisions within this legislation. However, I have provided an appropriate overview of the major benefits of this legislation and how it would improve the lives of our veterans and their families. The promise that we make to our veterans is sacred and knows no gender. To honor our veterans, we must honor this promise for each and every one of them.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.
There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record,
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT