News, Culture & Society

Almost 40% of servicewomen struggle to conceive

Almost 40% of servicewomen struggle to conceive – and only 5 military treatment centers offer IVF, report finds

  • The Service Women’s Action Network interviewed 800 former and current women in service
  • They found an incredibly high rate of women with fertility issues
  • 1 in 10 women in the US struggle to conceive, compared to 1 in 3 servicewomen
  • The report warns women need to prove their fertility is linked to their service in order to get fertility treatment, but there is limited research on that

More than a third of women in the Armed Forces are infertile – compared to one in 10 in the general US population, a report reveals.

The findings, based on interviews with 800 active-duty and veteran women, have raised questions about whether experiences in the military hamper fertility.

One Army aviation retiree told the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which published the report, that she blames the total loss of her ovaries at aged just 21 on her exposure to chemicals used to strip aircraft parts. She claims the military refused to cover or offer her IVF treatment. 

Another said she spent years handling fuel before finding out she was infertile, and that she struggled to get coverage for IVF through the military. 

SWAN, an advocacy group for servicewomen, said these stories are far from anomalies, presenting scores more testimonies from women. 

They call for broader access to fertility treatment (the full spectrum is only offered at five military centers) and subsidies, sparking a war of words with the Department of Defense. 

But above all, they call for research to identify why military service appears to impact female fertility.  

The findings, based on interviews with 800 active-duty and veteran women, have raised questions about whether experiences in the military hamper fertility (file image)

The report explains that military women who have impaired fertility are entitled to free fertility treatment through the military. 

However, it requires them traveling to one of just five centers in the United States: in Houston, Texas; Honolulu, Hawaii; Bethesda, Maryland; San Diego, California; and Tacoma, Washington. 

They all have waiting lists. 

In order to get treatment at one of those centers, women must prove their infertility is linked to their service.  

For some, that wasn’t too hard. One woman who suffered a series of abdominal hernias was able to get a doctor’s verdict that her ill-fitting uniform was to blame. 

For others, it is murky.  

The SWAN report says this obstacle is impossible for many women to overcome without more research into what the possible links could be.  

‘This data clearly cries out for more research to pinpoint the high levels of infertility,’ the report authors write. 

‘In the interim, military women who present with fertility problems which are likely a result of military service should be afforded access to all available infertility testing and procedures at no cost.’ 

Those who are refused treatment or cannot access those centers can go to civilian centers using Tricare insurance, which covers certain tests but does not cover IVF. 

Women in the SWAN report said they had paid between $15,000 and $20,000 for one cycle of IVF – the same as they would if they weren’t in the military.  

Ellen Haring, CEO of SWAN, spoke to one woman who paid $30,000 for IVF to have twins. 

Later this year, it is likely we will have more answers to Haring’s questions. RAND Corporation is in the midst of rolling out a survey to as many current and former servicewomen as possible to assess fertility, pregnancy, family issues, and injuries. has contacted the Department of Defense for a comment.  


Comments are closed.