July 29, 2022

Amid Troop Recruitment and Retention Challenges, Hirono Urges DOD to Study Impact of Offering Fertility Preservation Services

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amid troop recruitment and retention challenges, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the Department of Defense (DOD) to consider providing family planning options, including cryopreservation. In a letter sent today to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Hirono highlights that one of the top reasons individuals—particularly women—choose not to join, or leave the military is because of the impact serving has family planning—and that providing servicemembers with family planning options, including cryopreservation, could serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool.

Multiple studies—including a 2018 RAND study and a 2020 GAO study—found that issues related to pregnancy affect a women’s’ decision to stay in or leave the military. Cryopreservation—a process of preserving biological material by cooling the sample to low temperatures—is one way to address the concern and make it easier for servicemembers to continue to serve, which is why foreign military services, including the British Armed Forces, are increasingly offering cryopreservation for their servicemembers as a component of basic healthcare.

“A TRICARE cryopreservation program would give servicemembers, particularly women, significant flexibility in deciding when to start a family,” writes Senator Hirono. “This could keep our military competitive with the civilian sector and serve as a retention tool among servicemembers who feel they must choose between their military career and having a family. We need to understand how providing family planning options, including cryopreservation, would impact servicemembers.

Specifically, Senator Hirono is calling on DOD to conduct a study to:

  • Determine the number of servicemembers of different ages, genders, and military professions who elect to leave active duty primarily for family planning reasons, and whether or not the option to freeze their egg or sperm cells could lead to greater retention; and
  • Investigate methods and costs to offer cryopreservation to servicemembers, as well as any other matters the Department deems relevant.

“No one should have to sacrifice their career in the military for starting a family,” Senator Hirono concludes. “We owe it to these servicemembers to ensure they have the tools and command support to begin a family when they choose, while continuing to serve our country. Additionally, increasing the number of the female recruits will be critical to not only reaching DOD’s diversity goals, but their recruitment goals as well. Providing family planning options could be a critical tool in making that happen.  We urge you study the offering and funding of cryopreservation services to our military personnel.”

Last month, Senator Hirono offered an amendment to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to study the impact of cryopreservation on servicemembers.

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

Dear Secretary Austin,

The Department of Defense has identified a number of factors that have led to significant recruitment and retention challenges.  One of the top reasons service members, particularly women, choose not to join, remain, or leave the Armed Forces is the impact military service has on family planning. I urge the Department of Defense (DOD) to consider how providing family planning options would impact servicemembers.      

Pregnancy and childbirth present particular challenges for women serving in the military. Multiple studies—including a 2018 RAND and a 2020 GAO study—found that issues related to pregnancy affect a woman’s decision to stay or leave the military, especially the difficulty of timing pregnancies to fit within rigid career timelines.  There are many career field-specific medical restrictions while pregnant—such as the inability for pilots to be in a flight status or troops to move under weight of their equipment—that can impact a female servicemember’s decision on whether or when to become pregnant. These medical restrictions present particular challenges to career advancement as a pregnancy can impact deployability and duty assignment and force women of childbearing age to decide between starting a family or advancing their military career. 

While the military must do more to address pregnancy discrimination from within the ranks and better support women who have children while serving, providing servicemembers with family planning options, including cryopreservation, a process of preserving biological material by cooling the sample to low temperatures, could serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool.

This issue does not just impact women as both male and female servicemembers risk infertility due to combat-related injuries and toxic exposure, which often influences decisions to pre-emptively preserve the ability to have children post deployments. 

Across the U.S. and around the world, egg freezing and in vitro fertilization are starting to become more common as employer provided benefits in the civilian sector. Furthermore, foreign military services, like the British Armed Forces, are increasingly offering cryopreservation for their servicemembers as a component of basic healthcare. While U.S. servicemembers can currently access cryopreservation by paying out of pocket, many cannot afford the procedure.

A TRICARE cryopreservation program would give servicemembers, particularly women, significant flexibility in deciding when to start a family. This could keep our military competitive with the civilian sector and serve as a retention tool among servicemembers who feel they must choose between their military career and having a family. We need to understand how providing family planning options, including cryopreservation, would impact servicemembers.

I call on DOD to study the demand for cryopreservation among servicemembers, whether offering cryopreservation to servicemembers will lead to greater retention, and the cost of cryopreservation if offered to active-duty servicemembers. 

I urge DOD to conduct a study to: Evaluate multiple details concerning the desire for and feasibility of a program which would allow service members to freeze their eggs or sperm as a means to bolster force retention. Specifically, DOD should:

  • Determine the number of servicemembers of different ages, genders, and military professions who elect to leave active duty primarily for family planning reasons, and whether or not the option to freeze their egg or sperm cells could lead to greater retention.
  • Investigate methods and costs to offer cryopreservation to servicemembers, as well as any other matters the Department deems relevant.

The people who join the military already sacrifice an incredible amount in order to serve their country. No one should have to sacrifice their career in the military for starting a family. We owe it to these servicemembers to ensure they have the tools and command support to begin a family when they choose, while continuing to serve our country. Additionally, increasing the number of the female recruits will be critical to not only reaching DOD’s diversity goals, but their recruitment goals as well. Providing family planning options could be a critical tool in making that happen.  We urge you study the offering and funding of cryopreservation services to our military personnel.

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