Fertility Issues Among Active-Duty Females/Female Vets

Women in the military have enough to worry about. There’s concern for their safety, of course. They also worry about their families back home and certainly the health and welfare of their fellow troops. Indeed, it’s a life far different from that of a civilian woman, filled with challenges that many of us wouldn’t even dare try to handle.

But once their military duties are over, their lives get back to normal, right?

Not necessarily. Just as with male troops, the stressors of being in the military – even when active duty is over, can carry into civilian life for the country’s many female soldiers.

And those stressors could be affecting their ability to conceive, even after they are void of the responsibilities of military life. Or perhaps the infertility problems that plague so many military women relate to toxins and other hazards they were exposed to during active duty.

One recent study was determined to get at least some answers to these questions and to shed light on the struggles of military women who are trying to get pregnant.

According to a new survey study by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an advocacy group for female veterans, 37 percent of active duty women polled said they had chronic problems in conceiving or carrying a baby to term, while 30 percent of female veterans said they experienced infertility while trying to get pregnant.

All of these findings were outlined in a report entitled Access to Reproductive Healthcare: The Experiences of Military Women, which involved an online poll of some 800 military women. About 35 percent of those who took part in the study are currently actively serving in America’s military while the other 65 percent are veterans or retirees.

Analyzation of the data indicated, overall, that active-duty female troops experience infertility at rates three times that of civilian American women, and they continue struggling with fertility problems after leaving the service. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back up those figures, adding that the rate of infertility among U.S. civilian women stands at about 12 percent, a far lower number.

Retired Army Colonel Ellen Haring, chief executive officer at SWAN, adamantly believes that the large disparity regarding infertility among civilian women vs. military women could certainly be service connected and she advocates for further study.

“The military needs to determine the reason for this high rate of infertility and immediately provide military women all forms of infertility care at no cost,” she told a military news outlet that profiled the story of the new study.

While the survey did not definitively determine the reason for the infertility, as Haring suggests, follow-up interviews with some of the respondents proved interesting. Many of them believed that issues such as environmental exposures on the job may be to blame. Among the problems mentioned were exposure to contaminated water as well as fuels and other chemicals and serving in locales with extremely poor air quality.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s been a long, frustrating struggle for many and they often turn to the VA for help. Five military treatment facilities currently provide fertility services: Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas; Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland; Naval Medical Center San Diego, California; and Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, Washington.

However, women must provide proof that their infertility is military-related in order to be treated at those VA locations. That’s difficult to do, so many tend to turn to private doctors for their fertility issues, hoping that they can eventually find solutions to whatever it is that’s keeping them from conceiving.

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