In another giant leap forward for LGBTQ+ rights and equality in the military, the federal government has announced that military veterans can now officially identify as trans in their official medical records.
Brody Levesque of the Los Angeles Blade reported that Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has confirmed that veterans will now be able to select between options including transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other when filling out health care documentation.
In a statement, McDonough said, “All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves. This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”
According to Levesque, “The statement also noted that the change allows health care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.”
In a previous speech last summer at a Pride event, McDonough said one of his goals while in his current position with the military is to help veterans overcome the “dark history” of discrimination they have experienced in the past. Doing that, he said, includes ensuring proper and high-quality medical care for all of today’s veterans who identify as transgender.
He added that he hopes the new policy will also allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side.”
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” McDonough said.
Many LGBTQ+ advocates have applauded McDonough’s efforts and say the change can’t come soon enough.
“In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%) and substance abuse (16%),” Levesque wrote. “In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.”
“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.”
“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.