Episode 146: Infertility in the Military: Giving Hope to Our Heroes
Today’s episode is a little different than the usual personal encounters with infertility we share on this podcast, but in celebration of Veterans Day, we wanted to bring you a special episode. Today, we are joined by Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. This foundation was started to support Veterans through physical care, beyond what they receive from Veteran health care. Join us as we learn more about this organization and about their VIVA program, a fund that provides fertility assistance to Veterans.
Guest: Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation
Host: Dan Bulger
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Here are some highlights from this episode:
01:14 – 03:56
Anne Marie Dougherty: We were founded in the wake of Bob Woodruff’s life-changing injury. He was the world news anchor for ABC, back in 2006. And he was reporting from Iraq, and the vehicle that he was in hit a roadside bomb, he was catastrophically wounded, along with his cameraman. His life was saved by the soldiers that he was with and the military medics, and then ultimately, the military medical healthcare system. So, Bob is a journalist recuperated in the military healthcare setting. He noticed that there was kind of an inequity of care between what he was receiving, as you know, a celebrity, an ABC News anchor, and what the soldiers and Marines in the hospital who had the same injuries as he did, we’re receiving in terms of above and beyond what the government provides.
Dan Bulger: The Bob Woodruff Foundation is a national nonprofit with a goal to support Veterans and their families and to ultimately make sure they have access to the resources that they’ve earned after they’ve transitioned out of the military.
Anne Marie Dougherty: We’re a funder in the Veteran space, with a major grant making program focused on improving health and well-being. And then we also work hand in hand with community-based organizations to strengthen the abilities of those organizations to meet Veterans’ needs, efficiently and effectively. And then another program I’m super excited to talk to you about in more detail is that we work directly with families through our VIVA program to fund fertility assistance for Veterans who have a service-related disabilities and who are not eligible for fertility services through the VA.
Who is Eligible for VIVA?
04:23 – 07:43
Anne Marie Dougherty: Service members who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them sustained wounds and injuries that affected their physical or their mental health. And that ultimately could lead to issues with intimacy and fertility. So, it’s kind of one of those topics that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the military community, for sure, but it is an important one, nonetheless. Everything that we do is a complement, and necessary adjunct to the VA programs. One of the things that I’m super proud of that we’ve been able to create at the Bob Woodruff Foundation is to have really inclusive eligibility criteria. The VA does not fund the use of donor sperm, eggs or surrogates and the Bob Woodruff Foundation does. The VA requires legal male-female marriage, and the Bob Woodruff Foundation does not. And the other piece is, because we are a national nonprofit and not a government agency, we’re able to be more flexible in regard to the nature of the service-related wound or injury. We support families who don’t necessarily have a direct injury to their creative organs but are nevertheless facing infertility as a result of their service. So that might be someone who has a severe traumatic brain injury, or someone who’s dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and they’re therefore not able to procreate, and that injury or wound is directly related to their service.
When you raise your hands to serve our country, you are not foregoing your ability to have a family when you transition out of the military. So that’s kind of like the heart of why we have this program. And you may have seen on our website, one of the phrases that we use a lot is got your six. And I think that the VIVA program is just one way that we are able to work with Veterans and military families and show them that we have their back or got your six as a military jargon for I have your back. And we’re able to show that through helping them when they transition out of the military achieve their dreams of starting and expanding their families.
How The Process Works
07:53 – 19:07
Anne Marie Dougherty: Our application cycle is always open. And it has no deadlines, and it has no application fees. So, the family goes on to submit the application, and we review the case. And this is something I’m super proud of, we respond right away… If you have benefits that are available to you at the VA, and you didn’t know that, let us help you take advantage of them. If the Veteran is not eligible for VA care for all the reasons that I mentioned earlier. We begin the process of supporting them through BWF VIVA program. And essentially like it in its simplest form, what we do is reimburse the fertility clinics for up to two rounds of IVF. All the U.S. Fertility clinics have agreed, every single one, to cut the cost for any service member or Veteran that qualifies for this program by 25%. So now the IVF bill is going down. BWF is covering the cost. And then there’s one more piece of this that makes it like just pretty incredible. The pharma companies that are providing the drugs are providing the drugs for free to the clinic for the family.
So, there are 34 babies who have been born into this world through the VIVA program that’s only been up and running for a couple of years. All these babies and 12 more pregnancies. And this, you know, I hope this program goes on forever, it is absolutely my job to raise money for this program. And when you think about writing a $5,000, check, once for family, maybe twice, that’s $10,000 and the impact that can have.
Dan Bulger: Anne Marie mentioned a $5,000 donation going a long way for a Veteran trying to grow their family with IVF, especially when you take in the discounts they’ll receive through the VIVA program. But we think it’s important to say that large donations like that aren’t the only ones that matter. After all, small donations from many are as good as large donations.
Anne Marie Dougherty: You might not think that your donation makes a difference. And I want to tell you that it does, whether it’s $10 or $100, or $10,000, it does make a difference. I think the journey through fertility treatment can be one that is so significant in your life, that if you know someone else is struggling, and you have the ability to help them through financial gift, I will get my job at the Bob Woodruff Foundation to make sure that I put that gift to great use.
Dan has been in the healthcare industry for the last six years as a multimedia content producer. Better known as ‘Video Dan’ he has interviewed numerous doctors, patients and other experts in the world of fertility. He’s also the producer for this podcast, This is Infertility. On a personal note Dan’s parents started fostering kids when he was four years old, and he considers himself a proud older brother to over 100 foster children.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Anne Marie Dougherty oversees and funds the nation’s largest nongovernmental network of veteran service providers, which, according to Forbes, helps veterans not only navigate the 40,000+ organizations that provide services to them, but also helps veterans heal from the physical and psychological wounds of war. With A-list celebrities and philanthropic institutions at our side – Bruce Springsteen, the NFL, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, MacKenzie Scott, Jon Stewart, Lee Ann Womack, Mickey Guyton – and our country’s highest-ranked military and national security leaders, we have invested more than $100 million in best-in-class veterans programming across the country. Our product is peace of mind – for veterans, for veteran-serving organizations, and for philanthropists looking to invest efficiently and effectively in veteran services.
As a military spouse, Anne Marie’s connection to the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s mission is personal. She has lived experience as a Marine spouse during war time combat deployments and through multiple duty station moves. When she tells veterans, their families, and their caregivers that the Bob Woodruff Foundation has “Got Your 6,” she means it. She regularly speaks to media outlets ranging from ESPN, to NPR, TIME, CBS, and Fox to raise awareness for veteran needs.
Anne Marie is active with her two young boys in their local community, including through their sports teams and schools. She serves on the Board of Directors of the UN Women for Peace Association, as an Advisory Board Member for Game Changers Institute, and as a NationSwell Council Member. Anne Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communications from Drexel University.
Music From This Episode:
Artist: Lee Rosevere
Track: I Thought of Pills