Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

April 16, 2014 at 9:32am

The difficult road to building a military family

An image of Heidi Burger, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Burger, and a teddy bear that honors his son, Gabriel, who died last November from pregnancy complications. Photo credit: Sgt. 1st Class Carlos M. Burger II, 11th Public Affairs Detachment

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FORT HOOD, Texas - My story isn't unique in the military. In fact, it's more common than people know.

This week has been a hard Army week for me. It's not about being deployed for the fifth time or recovering from the media event we conducted yesterday morning or even dealing with young Soldiers that don't quite seem to understand the concept of the term "professional development."

As I sit behind my desk, I look at the beautifully expensive photo of my wife from Glamour Shots and the tiny cotton teddy bear with the red bow tie next to it and realize that my son, Gabriel, would be born this week.

That is to say he would have been, if he hadn't died five months ago. My son died last November due to a premature labor. The teddy bear the nurses put next to his tiny body is all I have left to even know he ever existed.

Service members and their families sign up to support and defend our great country. It's an honorable profession and wonderful experience that many, myself included, wouldn't change for anything. But some Service members sacrifice more than others. Some sacrifice the time and effort to build families of their own.


My wife was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in 2007 and an incompetent cervix last year, which means it's difficult for her to get pregnant and even harder for her to sustain it through three trimesters. Our ordeal was bad enough and the fact that it was the second time it occurred to us (the first happened during my first deployment back in 2006) was just too much to deal with. My wife wasn't sure if she could handle the physical and mental stresses of trying again and, honestly, I wasn't sure if I could either.

My unit's impending deployment weighed heavily on our minds along with the monumental effort it took to get pregnant in the first place. Our marriage started to unravel. We fought and pushed each other to the brink of divorce. I understand now that stress, anger and grief fueled many of those fights. Through sheer force of will, we managed to come to the realization that, for now, we're all we had and only together were we going to make it through this tragedy.

Fast-forward five months and I'm in the middle of my Army deployment. But this week, my mind isn't on my mission. It's on the son I could have had and how, in some ways, the Army failed many like me.

TRICARE coverage and more fertility military treatment facilities needed

PCOS is a common cause of infertility in women. According to womenshealth.gov, Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age has PCOS and as many as 5 million women in the United States may be affected. The military has made steps forward in medical coverage for male and female fertility diagnosis; however, complex fertility treatments such as Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are not currently covered.

Army doctors did not diagnose my wife's conditions and Army doctors don't perform her fertility treatments. Her surgery that removed cysts from her ovaries wasn't performed on a military installation. However yes, the Army did pay for all this major procedure through TRICARE, the Army's medical insurance system.

The problem is that all of the minor processes to get to that point required an "off-post" referral, or permission to use a specialist off post that can accept TRICARE as a payment plan. The doctor we used in Austin, Texas, understood our dilemma with the Army and was even gracious enough to offer a 50 percent military discount, meaning all we had to do was get the other $1,500 to cover his IUI procedures.

Each Army doctor my wife has seen across four installations since 2006, wanted to do their own individual research before submitting a referral, instead of just following the next step in the chain. This red-tape process combined with my deployments means my wife and I lost the one commodity we can't get back: time.

The military has made strides with having six military treatment facilities that offer IVF procedures: Wilford Hall on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu; Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; the Naval Medical Center in San Diego; Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. These six facilities are not enough to handle the entire Armed Services, and I can only imagine the wait lists at some of these hospitals for those treatments.

In order to make a difference in the lives of these military families, both an addition to TRICARE and more facilities that cover fertility options need to happen. Maybe the Department of Defense should look into that; it's the least they can do for their service members who sacrifice daily for their country.

After understanding what's going on with us, my wife and I do what most military families do: adapt. While I'm deployed, she's going to her doctors in an effort to try to take care of as many issues as she can while I'm away. When I return, we'll get back on the proverbial saddle and try again. Hopefully, with luck, the next time I deploy I'll have a picture of my child holding a teddy bear instead of one honoring their memory.

Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Burger is with the 11th Public Affairs Detachment.

Filed under: Military, Health, In Their Words, Kids,
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