By Crystal Wilson

Tyler and I just got back from an amazing trip to Washington DC to advocate on behalf of all Veterans with Service Connected injuries that result in the need for Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART), including in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We worked with two organizations at the forefront of advocating for changing this gap in coverage. RESOLVE and Wounded Warrior Project (supported by 11 other Veteran Service Organizations) rose to the occasion in advocating to change policy and provide this service to those Veterans who have already given up so much in service to our country. Our main focus for this trip was to advocate for members of Congress to vote in favor of the Murray Amendment to the Mil-Con bill and to co-sponsor Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act (S 469/HR 3365). This amendment and this bill would be the answer to our prayers and FINALLY provide the coverage that these men and women have earned through their military service. One of my favorite quotes from Tyler as we have been trying to bring awareness to this issue and change policy is “This is a medical condition directly related to my combat injury. Why is everything else covered and then the ball is dropped and this massive gap exists for the last and final step in my transition to civilian life?” This question is why we are doing what we are doing; working so hard to ensure that no other Veteran who has fought and sacrificed to protect your family and EVERY American family, has to give up on their right to have a family of their own because of Congress’ lack of action.

On Tuesday, we met with two other couples who are in similar situations requiring IVF for the chance at a family due to combat injuries. Matt and Tracy Keil are two of the most courageous people we know and started fighting this battle 8 years ago, never once giving up. Tracy and Matt have been blessed with 5 1/2 year old twins following IVF, but only after covering $32,000 in out of pocket costs. Matt was paralyzed from the chest down following being shot in the neck by an enemy sniper and resulting in the need for IVF. Kevin and Lauren Jaye were also fighting for change after Kevin stepped on a pressure plate and lost one leg, experienced extensive damage to his other leg, among other injuries that resulted in a need for IVF to have children of their own. Lauren and Kevin have now been blessed with a successful IVF round and are currently 26 weeks pregnant with their baby girl! With these two courageous couples by our sides, Tyler and I knew that our voices would be much harder to silence. We drew strength from their strength and dedication to share their stories to help close the same gap we are fighting to fix. We are grateful for their willingness to lead the way for Tyler and me, to join in this cause and honored to stand by their side on Capitol Hill, fighting for something that each and every one of those who would benefit from this coverage has already given so much of themselves.

Our first day consisted of meetings with Senator Cory Gardner (CO), Senator Patty Murray (WA-the woman who started this battle for each and every one of us and has never given up since 2012), Senator John Tester (MT), and Senator Mark Kirk’s (IL) staff. We are grateful for the media coverage of this day that has now circulated across the country, as we need attention to this issue and outreach from citizens across the country to ensure Congress is held accountable to change policy and close the gap. One of the most memorable moments from these meetings was the undying support from Senator Murray; she is simply an amazing champion who repeatedly pointed out to various media outlets that “this is a cost of war” and it is our job as American people to take care of our Veterans when they return wounded from a war we sent them to, just like we take care of any other wound of these same wars. Thank you Senator Murray for ensuring this wrong is righted and for your continued dedication to some of our nation’s bravest men and women! Senator Tester; we appreciated your honesty and direct answers, which let’s be honest is rare among politicians. We also really appreciated your support of our nation’s Veterans when you noted “I will bring the baseball bat to this fight…you all have already fought and given up so much fighting for our country; it is our time to fight for you.” Senator Gardner, it was an honor to meet with someone from our home state and share stories of how amazing Colorado is; we appreciate your standing support for our nation’s Veterans, are encouraged by your recognition of the large amount of bipartisan support for this issue and are hopeful you will also align yourself with this support and deliver a “yes” vote! Meeting with Senator Kirk’s staff was incredibly educational on the Congressional process, and we are also confident in his office’s understanding of the need to close this gap.

Tuesday evening brought more inspiration for our advocacy efforts. Tyler and I were honored to be recognized by RESOLVE with an “Infertility Hero Award” for our advocacy efforts on this issue. RESOLVE is an amazing organization, and witnessing a room full of over 200 people who were willing to share their own stories, advocate right beside us, and stand in front of their own Congressmen/women demanding change and support for infertility coverage was incredible. We were lucky to share a little about our story, our passion for advocating to close this gap, and with the support of so many amazing Americans we WILL change policy!
Though Tuesday was a long day and both Tyler and I were exhausted, we were not done…RESOLVE Advocacy Day 2016 got us out of bed and ready to fight another day for this change! The morning began with a training breakfast in which Tammy Duckworth, US House of Representatives (IL), US Army Veteran, IVF parent, was the keynote speaker. Her speech and call to action was incredibly powerful, honest, and filled with passion for the cause at hand. Following her speech, Tyler and I had a conversation with Representative Duckworth, where the most memorable statement she made to Tyler was “don’t take any bull; you fought for this.” She could not be more accurate; EVERY single Veteran in Tyler’s shoes fought for American families and should not have the opportunity to have their own taken away by war and then effectively blocked from a solution by Congress. Thank you Representative Duckworth for your continued support of this cause and our nation’s bravest men and women!

Next came a trip back to the Hill. We were thrilled to have more advocates by our side during Wednesday’s meetings, which consisted of another stop by Senator Cory Gardner’s office to meet with his staffers, and meetings with Senator Michael Bennet (CO), Senator John McCain’s (AZ) staff, Senator Bill Cassidy (LA), Representative Diana DeGette’s (CO) staff, and Representative Mike Coffman’s (CO) staff. It was encouraging to hear again from Senator Gardner’s office of the large bipartisan support (23-7) of the Murray Amendment to the Mil-Con bill being a convincing factor for decision making in this process. Senator Bennet, who is a very large proponent for Veterans health issues including closing this gap in coverage, was a breath of fresh air. He was open, honest, and direct with his intentions to “make this happen” and “keep fighting” until it does. Yes, those words are not usually associated with politics, but it was refreshing to hear from a home state Senator who is so legitimately behind this issue. The meetings with both Representative DeGette and Representative Coffman’s staffers were also encouraging, as both have a long standing history of supporting healthcare and Veteran’s issues respectively. Thank you both for everything you continue to do to move this issue forward. The meeting with Senator McCain’s staff was when Matt asked one of his staffers to request the Senator to stand in front of this wall of pictures where his entire family is highlighted and think about that when he makes his decision whether or not to support this cause, because that is exactly what we are asking for, to have a wall like that of our own family in our own homes. Now, the meeting with Senator Cassidy was a lot different than anything we had experienced. Senator Cassidy was one of the 7 who voted against the Murray Amendment while it was in Committee. The educational parts of this meeting was how difficult it felt to get the message across with what this amendment is actually designed to do, and when you think of stereotypical politics, that’s what this meeting was. I cannot remember ever hearing a straight answer to “what were your concerns that led to the ‘no’ vote?” Our goal was to gain information as well as provide information with the room of experts, Veterans, and families, but without a straight answer and repeated deflections, it was difficult to move forward. I guess that’s why they call it politics.

Neither Tyler nor I have ever participated in an advocacy day on the Hill, so we truly did not know what to expect when we started, but by the end of the two days we came away with continued dedication and devotion to this issue. We came to the conclusion that this was the most empowering and at the same time disheartening experiences we have ever had. When an issue is so personal, you naturally become emotionally invested. We have now had the opportunity to turn that emotional investment into action. Every member of Congress should know that we, along with those who stood beside us over these two days will keep fighting until this issue is resolved and the gap is closed. We WILL NOT give up, and God forbid the Murray amendment doesn’t make it through the floor, WE WILL BE BACK NEXT YEAR, and every year it takes until this wrong is righted. As I stated in our acceptance speech at RESOLVE’s banquet, “just as Matt fought so hard to rescue Tyler that day, just as Tyler fought every moment to live and every moment since to recover, we WILL keep fighting for this injustice.”

If you are tired of this injustice, tired of these men and women who have already given so much of themselves to protect your family, call or write your Senators and Representatives and demand they take action to allow these men and women to have access to the necessary medical care that will provide them with the opportunity for their own family. We are counting on each and every one of you to make your voices heard. Tyler, and others in his seat, gave up their ability to walk, stand, and do so many simple daily tasks we all take for granted to protect your family; now it is YOUR turn to protect their right to have a family of their own.

This post was reprinted, with permission, from the blog “Push Me Everyday: A Wounded Sky Soldier and His Wife’s Journey to Health and Wellness”.  Heartfelt thanks to you, Crystal and Tyler!