On Saturday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they plan to add gender confirmation surgery to their existing healthcare services. V.A. Secretary Denis McDonough made this announcement at a Pride event in Orlando, Florida.
The new directive will reverse a 2013 ban on gender confirmation surgery, in which the V.A. refused to provide the surgery to transgender veterans.
It will take two years to put the plan into action. “This process will require changing V.A.’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety of transgender veterans,” McDonough said at the Saturday event.
McDonough discussed the high rates of mental illness, suicidal ideation, and fear of seeking necessary care due to stigma among transgender veterans. Gender confirmation surgeries, which will now be offered to transgender veterans through the V.A., are seen as possible ways to reduce these mental health issues. He said, “this is a health care decision that has very real physical health care impacts as well as significant mental health impacts.”
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there are an estimated 134,000 transgender veterans. These estimates also suggest that there are more than 15,000 transgender individuals who actively serve in the military.
Gina Duncan, the director of transgender equality for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, voiced support for the policy change. She said in response to the V.A.’s announcement, “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving health care they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do,” McDonough said, “but because they can save lives.”
Sources: The New York Times 6/21/21; The Washington Post; 6/19/21; NBC 6/20/21; National Center for Transgender Equality 2021