Why sperm freezing is the best investment the Pentagon will ever make

Khaled Kteily
6 min readMar 10, 2022

Legacy isn’t interested in becoming a boutique men’s fertility company that only serves a select lucky few. Our vision is to make sperm a biomarker of health — which requires active, intentional involvement in world-changing conversations about fertility. We know fertility rates are dropping in the developed world. We know companies — including the U.S. military — are offering fertility benefits to attract and retain top talent. But we also know that fertility is still, inexplicably, viewed as a woman’s issue and not a people issue.

So, when we have a massive opportunity to change the narrative around fertility while also making a measurable, tangible difference in the world, we take it.

Why Legacy is working with the military on health and fertility initiatives

Our Military Affairs department is headed up by a West Point graduate and US Army combat engineer, and thanks to him, we’ve become involved in several extraordinary projects with the U.S. military. It’s our chance to use our expertise to offer the opportunity for all service members and veterans to build their own families.

Legacy Head of Military Affairs, John Crowley

The U.S. military is a massive employer, so much so that half of our U.S. men age 75 and older are veterans. Right now, about 1.1 million men are on active duty, and another 16 million total men across multiple age groups are veterans. They’ve made incredible sacrifices for their country at the expense of their own health and wellness, and Legacy believes there’s an opportunity to help ensure that everyone can build a family how and when they choose.

Part of that sacrifice is an incredible toll on their health. In a study we helped fund, we found Vietnam veterans experienced increased sperm damage from their deployment stemming from exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange. An estimated 200,000 veterans deployed to Iraq say their health was compromised by exposure to burn pits, leaving former V.A. Secretary (and Legacy advisor) David Shulkin to call for a modernized approach to benefits. If sperm is a biomarker of health, then Legacy has the responsibility to use our products and services to measure and mitigate these risks.

Legacy has several opportunities to help military service members and veterans take control of their health and build a fertility plan that considers the risks they’re taking by signing up for service. We aren’t the first to attempt this — former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter tried to launch a sperm (and egg) freezing program during his tenure in 2016. He said at the time of its launch:

“This investment will also provide greater flexibility for our troops who want to start a family but find it difficult because of where they find themselves in their careers.”

Thanks to his groundwork and our expertise, we believe we can positively impact the short and long-term health and fertility goals of military members. Here’s what we’re doing.

Short term: Universal sperm testing and freezing for service members

First, we partnered with the Military Family Building Coalition (MFBC) to launch an exclusive program for active duty members of Naval Special Warfare. MFBC was founded by two entrepreneurs and Navy SEAL spouses who’ve already experienced IVF and wanted to leverage their experience by helping others build the families they want while serving in the military.

This week, we spoke with the graduating Navy SEALs about why sperm freezing matters; the below is the only photo they’d allow us to take, with “Freddie the Frog”!

Legacy CEO Khaled Kteily and Legacy Head of Military Affairs CPT John Crowley at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado

We offer free testing and one year of cryo storage to help SEALs and their families plan for many different possible outcomes to their deployment. Given the risks they face of being wounded or killed in action, and given the types of risks they’ll be exposed to — chemical and otherwise — this feels like a natural insurance policy for every SEAL.

Medium term: Using sperm samples to understand the effects of service

Legacy is launching a study with the Department of Veterans Affairs, led in part by Legacy’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ramy Ghayda. The study will include a comprehensive semen analysis for 1,000 Global War on Terror veterans. Legacy will not be selling anything; instead, we’re hoping to shed light on how deployment, occupation, exposure to environmental conditions, and other factors affect sperm — and by extension, overall — health.

In the future, these tests could be an important part of the VA’s medical examination for all honorably discharged veterans. Ideally, every service member will have a baseline fertility analysis (upon graduation from basic training or boot camp) and a post-discharge fertility analysis. We believe that the delta between the two analyses will assist veterans in unlocking millions of dollars in disability compensation by demonstrating service-related impact to their reproductive health.

It could be an integral part of their military journey.

Our ultimate goal is to win a contract with the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, making both these processes as common as receiving signing bonuses or getting that first buzz cut when you show up at basic training. And in a world where the military is competing with major employers for the best and the brightest, this is a benefit that will improve its ability to attract and retain top talent.

Legacy wants to be directly involved in bigger questions

We have two reasons for launching this journey. The first one is that this process mimics what we want to see with society in general — sperm testing being a normal part of life as people take control of their health and plan for the future. Also, the ability to store the healthiest samples to prepare for future family planning, no matter your age or changing circumstances, would provide much-needed peace for many people.

Fertility is decreasing in the modern world, but Legacy can make a difference in health testing — as I said at the very beginning, our vision is to unlock sperm as a biomarker of health. Just like making sperm testing and storage an integral and logical part of a career journey through the military, all people with sperm should have access to comprehensive sperm testing and storage options to make planning for the future automatic.

The other reason we’ve launched this journey is to offer more than just lip service to service members and veterans. We’re working on projects that will make an actual impact for them and their families, building on the work of those like Ash Carter and Dr. Shulkin to offer comprehensive, modernized benefits to help keep service members whole.

We can see threads of the same conversation happening outside the military. We have the chance to demonstrate to the world what sperm testing can accomplish in terms of health while also expanding our offerings to others who need it.

What if we could offer the same services to others with high-risk jobs? Our firefighters or first responders? What if changing norms in fertility didn’t equal a question mark but a comma? What if we can make fertility and family planning something that happens intentionally from the father’s side as well as the mother’s?

What if it could move beyond that to all people currently with sperm who want more from their journey to parenthood and health?

It can, and with Legacy’s commitment to this and future projects, it will. After all — the only easy day was yesterday.

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Khaled Kteily

Khaled is the Founder & CEO of Legacy. Prev. at Harvard, the World Economic Forum, and UN Women.