5 Lessons from Advocacy Day That Will Teach You to Never Mess with The Infertility Community

By Griffin Jones

What a day. Legislation hasn't been this much fun since School House Rock. RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, held their 2016 annual Infertility Advocacy Day at the Capitol on May 11. Over 200 advocates came to Washington, DC to meet with their legislators regarding a few key issues that deeply affect both the infertility and military veteran communities. This was the largest advocacy day that RESOLVE has hosted to date and we hope it's only a glimpse of the momentum that is building for the future. If the relationships made between advocates are any indication, this is a movement set for growth. If you've ever wanted to connect with the infertility community, you need to come out for Advocacy Day; plain and simple. Read on to determine if it's the right fit for you. Let's start with some background on the issues for which we went to advocate:

Some of the NY Delegation with RESOLVE's Barb Collura. Photo courtesy of @the2weekwait

Some of the NY Delegation with RESOLVE's Barb Collura. Photo courtesy of @the2weekwait

Women Veterans and Families Health Services 
S 469 in the Senate and its companion in the House of Representatives, HR 3365, introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), would lift the Department of Veterans' Affairs' (VA) current ban on IVF for veterans and expand Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) services available to active duty service members through the Department of Defense (DOD). Senator Murray’s bill would also provide access to fertility treatment for spouses and allow for adoption assistance. This piece of legislation is extremely important to the infertility community and to U.S. military veterans. Call, e-mail, and tweet your lawmakers to ask them to co-sponsor this bill.

Certain Veterans with the Loss of Use of Creative Organs
A bill proposed by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) in the House of Representatives (HR 4892) will allow for veterans wounded in combat to receive an extra $20,000 in compensation for family building purposes which may include ART or pursuing adoption. In my opinion, this is weak stewardship of our veterans, but it has bipartisan support and is likely to pass. We advocated for Congressman Miller's bill so that, in the meantime, veterans at least have some help in building their families.

Adoption Tax Credit Refundability
As an American voter and taxpayer, you would hope that bills S 950 and HR 2434 would be a no-brainer for both parties in the Congress. The Adoption Tax Credit has not been refundable since it was made permanent in 2012. We are asking for refundability to be restored so that adoption becomes more feasible for lower and middle income families. This bill has support across the spectrum, it just needs enough people to give it the attention to move to a vote.

"The Plan"
Rather than a piece of legislation, the National Action Plan on Infertility, issued in 2014, was a declaration by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that infertility is a public health issue. Advocates are looking for senators and representatives to champion the plan and stand up for infertility as a national concern. Will that legislator be yours?

1). Stand Up for our Vets

Now that you know a bit about the bills that we advocated for, the rest will make sense. On Infertility Advocacy Day, there is no distinction between the needs of military veterans and those of people struggling with infertility. The communities are united in their work for what is right. So there couldn't have been a more fitting way to open the welcome reception on May 10 than a few words from three wounded servicemen and their wives who were awarded with RESOLVE's hero awards. We heard from soldiers and Marines who were shot through the neck by an enemy sniper and suffered explosions from improvised explosive devices (IED). Americans are disgusted when they learn that our wounded warriors are unable to receive treatment for the consequences of the wounds they sustained while in service to our country. It's disgraceful that our government will not allow the VA to enable them to build their families.  Were there more public awareness about Congress's unconscionable ban on IVF for veterans, it would be lifted in a heartbeat. This is where we need your help in letting people know about #IVFforvets. Public awareness is growing, as is news coverage here, here, and here, but we haven't reached the tipping point yet.

These Hero Award recipients speak about their struggle to build a family. Photo courtesy of @Recombine

These Hero Award recipients speak about their struggle to build a family. Photo courtesy of @Recombine

2). Be the change you want to see in the world

RESOLVE President and CEO, Barbara Collura, introduced the vice-chair and chair of Advocacy Day (respectively) , Candace Wohl, a RESOLVE peer support group leader from Virginia and co-founder of Our Misconception, and RESOLVE board member, Lee Collins. "I decided to do what was just," Wohl said, referring to her decision to speak out about infertility and advocate for the opportunity of building a family for millions of people.

"I see a room full of world changers," Collins added as she addressed the crowd of 200 advocates. The speakers made clear that Advocacy Day is about taking action. It's an opportunity to make a visible and real change.

3). don't take no for an answer

Breakfast on Wednesday morning began our briefing on the issues. We continued with our veteran speakers as Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) spoke to us about her journey as a wounded warrior, and someone with infertility who utilized IVF to conceive her daughter. "Military women are twice as likely to be infertile as civilian women," Congresswoman Duckworth informed. Ms. Duckworth encouraged the advocates not to take no, maybe, or lip-service yeses for an answer. "This isn't my house, it's your house," Duckworth said of the Congress. "It belongs to you the American taxpayer"

Rep. Duckworth addresses the advocates/ Photo courtesy of @BarbRESOLVE

Rep. Duckworth addresses the advocates/ Photo courtesy of @BarbRESOLVE

4). Make democracy work

It was time to get work. Each state's team headed to their senate and congressional appointments. Most of us met with the staffers responsible for veterans' affairs and/or healthcare but some of us were lucky enough to meet with our legislators in person. I very briefly ran into Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), and even got a bonus Charlie Rangel (D-NY) selfie! Some state groups were larger and some advocates went alone to their meetings. The RESOLVE staff did an excellent job of making sure that first-time advocates, or people who didn't feel comfortable flying solo to meetings, were accompanied by an Advocacy Day mentor; someone who has previously advocated for infertility issues on the Capitol. 

5). Reflect on the progress made and the work left undone

Finally, we wrapped up the day for a farewell briefing, to commiserate on what we had accomplished and largely to thank and congratulate the people who had done such a good job of putting the event together. The RESOLVE team did an incredible job of organizing the scheduling, messaging, promotion, recruitment, and followup for their day. The get-together at the end of Advocacy Day was a moment to appreciate how much RESOLVE does for people with infertility, and how the community wouldn't be nearly as cohesive without them. We owe them a debt of gratitude for everything they do to bring patients, physicians, medical professionals, mental health professionals, family building professionals, and allies under one banner. 

lasting impact

Sometimes people with infertility express a lack of control and a strong feeling of isolation with respect to their disease. But at least for one day, I didn't see any of that. I saw a powerful, focused community of people who were prepared and diligent in making an actionable change for their peers. In my opinion, the best part about Advocacy Day is the friendships that are made. When an advocate sees someone else walking the halls of the Capitol buildings with an orange ribbon, there is an instant bond that leads to taking impromptu meetings with congressional staffers together, or at least an #IFadvocacy selfie. Many of the advocates had met each other through social media, but never in person. The love and camaraderie between these folks is real and invigorating to be around but don't take my word for it, look at #ifadvocacy on Instagram and Twitter. I hope you'll experience it for yourself in 2017; if you participate in the infertility community in any way, there's no other day like it.