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Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:25 PM

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VA benefits sought for in-vitro coverage

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen are introducing legislation in Congress that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for in-vitro fertilization for veterans who suffer spinal cord or other injuries that damage their reproductive abilities.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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On the same day that Margeaux Kennedy learned about her husband's spinal-cord injury from an Army training accident, she also wondered about her own future

Given the extent of the 2011 injury, Kennedy feared she and her husband, Capt. Niall Kennedy, might not be able to conceive a child.

"That was on the forefront of my mind," recalled the 28-year-old Kennedy at a news conference in Seattle on Tuesday. "... I need to make sure that I can be a mom one day. This is my dream."

The best hope for the Kennedys may be in-vitro fertilization, which involves fertilizing the woman's egg in a laboratory, then implanting the embryo. But that procedure is not covered under the Department of Veterans Affairs medical benefits that Niall Kennedy, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will receive once he medically retires from the Army.

That gap in VA coverage is something Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, two Washington Democrats, want to eliminate through legislation they have introduced in Congress.

The legislation would offer VA payments for in-vitro fertilization for veterans with such injuries and their spouses. If necessary, it would also cover the costs of finding a surrogate to carry a baby to term.

The injuries may be a result of accidents and suffered during training. But there also has been a sharp rise in such injuries as a result of soldiers encountering improvised explosive devices on foot patrols in war zones. Since 2003, more than 1,800 service members have suffered injures that may damage reproductive abilities while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I know that this is often an uncomfortable topic, one that people don't want to talk about," Murray said. "I think it is time that America got into the century that we live in and provide these kinds of services."

Without VA benefits, some injured veterans have paid for in-vitro fertilization out of their own pockets.

Air Force veteran Sean Halsted at the age of 27 suffered a spinal-cord injury after he fell some 40 feet out of a helicopter. In 2004, six years after the initial injury, in-vitro fertilization helped him and his wife, Sarah, produce twins. But it cost them more than $15,000.

"We thankfully had the resources to be able to pursue in vitro," Sarah Halsted said.

The Kennedys say they don't have the savings to pay for an in-vitro procedure, and are hoping the congressional bill passes.

"Just recently I have had to really stop thinking about being a mom. Because it is just not possible right now," Margeaux Kennedy said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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