According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there are an estimated 134,000 transgender veterans in the U.S. and at least 15,000 trans persons currently serving in the military today. And now, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will be standing by all these individuals and helping to cover any needed gender confirmation surgery — a first-ever initiative for the government agency.
Alexandra Jaffe of the Associated Press reported that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough made the announcement on Saturday, June 19, at a Pride Month event in Orlando, Florida.
“McDonough said in prepared remarks that the move was ‘the right thing to do,’ and that it was part of an effort to overcome a ‘dark history’ of discrimination against LGBTQ service members,” Jaffe reported. “The move is just the first step in what’s likely to be a yearslong federal rulemaking process to expand VA health benefits to cover the surgery, but McDonough said the VA will use the time to ‘develop the capacity to meet the surgical needs’ of transgender veterans.”
In his statement, McDonough said the group’s new policy is designed to help “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side.” He also noted that the decision was led in part by health officials within the VA who see not only higher rates of mental illness and suicidal thoughts among LGBTQ veterans but also “a fear of discrimination that prevents those veterans from seeking care.”
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” McDonough said.
The effort to support transgender individuals, whether they are in the military or not, is part of an ongoing initiative announced by President Biden on his first day in office. He has continued to stick by pledges he made while campaigning for President to expand protections and benefits to all transgender individuals in the country, including those within the military.
“Just days into his term, President Joe Biden signed an executive order overturning a Trump administration ban on transgender individuals serving in the military,” Jaffe reported. “In February, McDonough ordered a review of the department’s policies to ‘ensure that transgender Veterans and employees do not face discrimination on the basis of their gender identity and expression.’”
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