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Paralyzed veterans advocate for permanent fertility benefits

Posted at 7:25 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 19:25:16-04

Fertility benefits for America's Paralyzed Veterans will expire this September, leaving many people concerned about the future of their family planning and could mean that some wouldn't have a family at all.

Chris and Ash Hull recently welcomed their newborn baby Penelope Jane, or as they call her, "P.J."

“She’s got my chin and my nose and my eyes. It’s like looking into the mirror and seeing a baby me. It’s cool,” Chris Hull said.

Chris and Ash both knew they wanted a family. In fact, Ash knew that Chris was "the one" when she first met him.

“I knocked and Chris was the open that opened the door, big smile on his face- I was smitten right then the rest is history,” Ash Hull said.

They got married and started talking about a family, which for them, would be complicated. A car accident in 2004 left Chris with quadriplegia. The accident happened when he was on his way home for leave.

“Had my car accident on exit 13 on Friday the 13th,” he said. “My friend fell asleep. We rolled 12-18 times. I broke my neck my back -- 3 ribs, my collar bone, my ankle. I think it was 11 bones in the accident.”

He doesn't remember much of the accident, but it left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“I’m a C6, C7, quadriplegic spinal cord injury,” Chris Hull said. “Most people when they think of quadriplegia, they think of fully paralyzed, no use of their arms, but I do have use of my arms. It’s just my fingers that are affected.”

He's an active member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which introduced him to adaptive sports. He's been in a wheelchair for 16 years and uses it to get around, and otherwise lives a completely normal life. When he and Ash decided they wanted a family, they were prepared - like anything else in life - to do whatever it takes. But it would require in vitro fertilization.

IVF is an extremely expensive and sometimes an emotionally exhausting procedure. Had they not had benefits through the V.A., parenting may not have been possible.

“It’s a really small community of people who need this coverage with paralyzed veterans and the ability to have their baby paid for through IVF and we feel like we have something to give as parents and if we didn’t have this benefit we’d struggle,” Chris Hull said.

That coverage is something that Heather Ansley, who does Government Relations for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, is working on right now- as the benefits surrounding IVF will expire this fall.

“There was a provision back in sept of 2016 that allowed the VA to do this on a temporary basis- something that would have to be reauthorized,” Ansley said.

She's preparing her case for Congress in hopes of making IVF coverage permanent.

“We think these benefits are something that our nation owes to our catastrophically disabled veterans particularly those who’s injuries are a direct result of their military service and this is the least that we as a grateful nation can do for their sacrifice,” Ansley said.

“If we no longer have that benefit it's really going to change our family planning,” Chris Hull said.

When asked whether there will be a sibling in the future, he said, “We really hope so we may have to go back to work we may face the financial strain of having to pay ourselves.”

While September is looming, they know that little P.J. will want a brother or sister. And they hope Congress will help make that happen.