A top Department of Veterans Affairs official discouraged lawmakers on Wednesday from providing $20,000 in extra compensation to veterans who can't have children due to groin injuries sustained in the line of duty.
"VA cannot support this amendment," David McLenachen, a deputy undersecretary for the Veterans Benefit Administration, wrote in prepared testimony for a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing. "Expanding statutory authority to pay increased benefit payments for one particular group of disabled veterans is inequitable. Moreover, administration of this benefit would add an undue level of complexity to the claims process."
The VA's opposition adds another wrinkle to a surprisingly controversial congressional fight about how to compensate veterans who suffer groin injuries. House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., disagree about whether the VA should be required to pay for in vitro fertilization treatments.
Miller wants to provide $20,000 to veterans interested in starting a family, as a means of defraying the costs entailed. By giving the money to veterans in a lump sum, Miller hopes to sidestep the question of whether the federal government will make direct payments for IVF treatments, which can lead to the abortion of excess embryos. The bill allows veterans and their non-veteran spouses to decide whether to seek IVF treatment or pursue adoption.
"This bill is about providing those who sacrificed more than most can imagine fair compensation and the opportunity to raise a family," he said in a statement Tuesday. "If a veteran does decide to use this benefit to start a family of their own, the real winners would be the children."
Murray criticized Miller's bill for failing to require the VA to cover the IVF treatments. "Fulfilling our promise to take care of our veterans shouldn't be a partisan issue, which is why I'm so disappointed by continued half-measures like this," she said Tuesday. "Simply put, this latest proposal falls far short of covering the care a veteran and their spouse needs to fulfill their dreams of starting a family."
McLenachen's statement suggests that the VA opposes the provision of any new benefit. "While sympathetic to veteran cases involving anatomical loss or loss of use of creative organs, VA is concerned that the creation of a new type of benefit, in the form of lump-sum payment, would be inequitable," he said in the prepared testimony.
Miller said that's an "offensive" position, noting that the VA already provides some benefits to such veterans. "I am stunned, at best," he said. "Once again, we have a situation where the VA is more inclined to support the status quo."