Women who work in the military’s naval aviation community have already beaten the odds. They might be working on the deck on an aircraft carrier, in charge of technical maintenance on an airplane, or flying the plane themselves. Whatever the job, the majority of their peers are men.

These women face an additional challenge their male peers do not. Because of the nature of their career path ― including years of education, flight training, and other operational service requirements ― their window of opportunity to start a family is especially limited. Fortunately, today there are many advancements in safe reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and fertility preservation (egg freezing), plus other family-building options such as adoption, that can widen their window for having children.

Like most private medical insurance, the military’s health plan does not cover these family-building services, the costs of which are enough to strain the budget of any family. One IVF cycle can cost $15,000 to $35,000, including medical and specialty pharmacy costs. Intended parents could be facing adoption fees that start at $50,000. Costs range from $90,000 to $130,000 for surrogacy, which may include IVF treatment and medical costs for the surrogate, plus legal fees, travel and insurance expenses.

These solutions are beyond the budget of a typical active duty aviator. By leaving service members and their families to pay these costs on their own, they will likely pay retail ― not wholesale ― prices. This financial burden unnecessarily adds to the stress inherent in a military aviator’s job, but an appropriately structured managed fertility benefit can make them affordable.

Medical consequences arise when patients cannot afford access to safe family-building options. Many women in the military using fertility treatment will elect to have twins because their window of opportunity to conceive is so small.

Because their window of opportunity to conceive is so small, many women in the military will elect to have twins. Others will hasten to use lower-cost infertility solutions that increase the odds of high-order multiple births, like triplets or quadruplets. Compared to mothers delivering singletons, these women are more likely to deliver prematurely. Their babies are prone to low birth weight and a greater risk of complications. Unlike family-building services, the medical costs required by fragile newborns are covered by insurance, and thus add a measurable financial burden to Tricare.

A managed fertility benefit is the most clinically effective and cost-efficient means for helping couples who need to delay starting a family, or are unable to have children naturally.

In the private sector, such benefits are becoming the norm, and help employers recruit and retain talent. The advantage is clear: businesses that supplement health insurance benefits with programs that support employees’ family-building needs have a better chance of hiring qualified employees than those who do not.

For military personnel, the potential advantages of a managed fertility benefit are even greater. It could simultaneously reduce the emotional and financial burden on military personnel, promote retention rates, and increase the chances of recruiting future generations into the military.

In the AVIATRIX Project, WINFertility is partnering with the Military Family Building Coalition to provide family-building support to female naval aviators. The goal is to empower these women to start families of their own, validate the impact a managed fertility benefit can have on military recruiting and retention, and study models for potentially extending these benefits to the entire American military. By helping them safely pursue their career and family goals simultaneously, service members who want to start a family could benefit from such a model.

As employers and the scientific community gained understanding of fertility issues and the range of family-building needs, the number of available options and services broadened.

The catch-all term “assisted reproductive technologies” includes IVF, which involves transferring sperm or eggs in order to increase the chances of successful pregnancy. It’s been more than 40 years since the first successful IVF birth, and the procedure has led to millions more around the globe. ART also includes surrogates, gestational carriers, and sperm or embryo donation for couples who require third-party assistance in order to conceive a child.

Beyond ART, adoption offers another alternative for family building, while fertility preservation (egg or sperm freezing) allows for career goals to be met while more safely delaying the start of a family. With these advances come a myriad of related challenges.

Each couple has unique family-building needs. Since the most efficient process for one couple might not be beneficial to another, oversight from a dedicated fertility case manager, usually a licensed clinician, is essential to yielding the most successful outcomes. Education is immensely helpful along each step of an intended parent’s journey. Genetic counseling, emotional support, nutritional counseling, and other behavioral health services can be integral parts of the process.

This kind of support is not available when organizations merely reimburse expenses without providing additional support. Such an unmanaged fertility benefit leaves patients to navigate their own path through a complicated journey, spending the limited funds available to them at their own discretion. Patients do not have access to expert guidance on the most efficient and productive ways to spend their time and money, which dramatically increases claim costs for the employer.

In many cases, employers have reported meaningful savings in family-building costs after switching from an unmanaged to a managed fertility benefit model. One reason: when employees receive guidance and education, the number of multiple gestations attributable to fertility treatments among employees drops by more than 90 percent.

For military families, the advantages of adopting a managed fertility benefit go beyond dollars and cents. The New York Times reported in 2019 that 79 percent of Army recruits came from a military family. Another 30 percent had a military parent. Approximately 70 percent of active troops come from military families, all branches included. Providing military personnel with support for fertility services is more than a mere act of patriotism or improving healthcare outcomes. It is a proactive means of recruiting the next generation of service members.

There are many ways to support our military men and women along their family-building journeys. The AVIATRIX Project is a useful starting point. By assisting female naval aviators to find the best solution for their family-building challenges, we aim to forge a useful template for offering family-building benefits to any service member in any situation ― a wise investment in the active military and its future.

Dr. Roger Shedlin is the CEO of WINFertility. From fertility management, including medical treatment, pharmacy and genetics to surrogacy and adoption, WINFertility has helped more than 150,000 families by providing access to the best doctors, technology, and support. The company was founded in 1998 and is based in Greenwich, CT.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times senior managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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