Injured vet fights for chance to be a mom

Posted at 9:55 PM, Jun 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-04 04:24:26-04

It’s a battle wound you can’t see.

Thousands of injured veterans are returning home infertile and learning the VA won’t pay for the treatment they need to have children.

Army Staff Sergeant Michelle Wager was injured in Baghdad in 2007 -- the year now known as the deadliest for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Wager was in the middle of it all. As a member of the military police unit, she was tasked with helping to bring order and stability to the war-torn nation.

"I wanted to be a part of the Armed Services. It was my calling and I loved every minute of it," said Wager.

Her decade of service ended on January 22, when her convoy was attacked and Wager was nearly killed.

A roadside bomb blew off one of Wager’s legs, badly damaged the other and broke her back. Doctors say she coded three times. 

Her recovery was long and painful. Military health benefits covered the cost to get Wager back on her feet, but there was another problem. Her menstrual cycles had completely stopped, doctors say her injuries threw her body into early menopause. She was just 31-years-old and her chances of having a child were slim to none.

A few years later, Wager met and married the man of her dreams. Despite the grim prognosis, the couple still wanted to try to have children.

Wager tried numerous therapies through the VA, including multiple rounds of fertility shots. Then in September of 2014, it finally happened. She got pregnant. 

"A miracle! I've never had a miracle happen before and here is my miracle. It was the 7 best weeks of my life," said Wager, choking back tears.

"I know you're supposed to wait 3 months, but we told everybody ... a week later we went in for my ultra sound and there was no heartbeat."

It was devastating. And the desire to be a mother only grew stronger.

Because of her injuries doctors say In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is her only hope but Wager was surprised to learn, when it comes to health coverage for IVF, she was too late.

"There is no IVF coverage through the VA unless you're in active duty. At the point in time when I was in active duty, I was just blown up in a vehicle, laying in a hospital bed with a missing limb. That's when I could have had IVF treatment," says Wager.

Congress banned the VA from covering IVF for veterans back in the 90s. Since then, thousands of soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries impacting their reproductive system, making IVF their best option to have children.

Very few are able to afford the $10-14,000 treatment on their own.

"I've already sacrificed enough. I don't feel that I should have to sacrifice the chance to have a child because the VA doesn't want to pay for it," said Wager.

Over the years, several bills to change the law have been proposed and shot down – in part due to pro-life concerns over the process of IVF.

But a new bill circulating in Congress right now is bringing hope.

If passed, HR4892 would give veterans with injuries impacting their reproductive ability $20,000 to use at their discretion for adoption fees or medical treatments.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could cost more than $500 million over four years.

To Wager and thousands of others – what they lost is worth every penny. 

Michelle Wager is almost 41 now. By the time the bill passes, she's worried it will be too late for her. She and her husband have a GoFundMe page and are trying to raise the money for IVF on their own.

Clinics like the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine are also helping veterans, reducing fees by as much as 50 percent because they say it's the right thing to do.

As far as the bill to compensate veterans with war wounds that have cost them the ability to have children -- it passed out of a subcommittee earlier in May. Supporters expect a tough fight as it makes its way through the House.


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