Gender identity continues to be a polarizing topic. It involves aspects of both physical and mental health in ways we are still discovering. For Veterans, this can be particularly frustrating as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to drag its feet for gender confirmation surgeries. The lack of such healthcare is putting transgender Veterans at unnecessary risk according to the Transgender America Veterans Association (TAVA) and the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Both groups are taking legal action because nothing has been done to provide proper transgender Veterans benefits regarding gender affirmation surgery.
Transgender Veterans Underserved Benefits Says Advocates
The VA promised gender affirming surgeries, yet progress has been slow to non-existent. Advocates are now demanding action for transgender Veterans in need of such healthcare. The Biden administration said there would be progress on this issue two and a half years ago, no progress has been made and now there’s a VA lawsuit.
TAVA and the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic believe legal action is necessary as the VA avoids presenting a rule-making plan showing when Vets will have access to gender-affirming surgeries.
Bekky Eshler, president of TAVA, said in an interview, “What am I supposed to tell my transgender Veterans that are trying to commit suicide because they can’t see themselves in their body?” Bekky is one of many who have pushed for the transgender lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, January 25th.
A statement from the President of TAVA, Rebekka Eshler, articulates these frustrations, saying, “Transgender Veterans have waited far too long for the medically necessary health care they require. It is high time that Secretary (Denis) McDonough follows through on his public promises to the transgender Veteran community. Statements are nothing without action.”
Secretary McDonough mentioned the VA would provide the surgeries but in the 28 months since, Veterans are still waiting. TAVA has been advocating for such access for eight years.
Life Changing Healthcare
The bottom line is that more research is needed on the topic of suicide-related outcomes following gender-affirming treatment. With that being said, transgender Veterans statistics show that compared to cis Vets, the suicide rate is 20 times higher.
There are mental and physical healthcare resources available for trans Vets but surgeries are still not as accessible. The hope is that by providing this healthcare, transgender Vets can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
It can be stressful for Veterans to start receiving care at VA facilities and then transition back to civilian facilities. Part of the issue is the hope for more continuity of care for trans Vets who are seeking not only surgeries but also other healthcare services.
How Many Veterans Are Transgender?
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), there are more than 134,000 trans Veterans and more than 15,000 trans service members actively serving today. This highlights the many, many heroes that can benefit from proper healthcare after service. Approximately 4,000 would use such healthcare.
Critics and activists are calling for the VA to hold up its commitment. Trans Veterans receiving gender confirmation surgery can help mitigate self-harm, mental health issues, and more. By failing to provide such healthcare, the burden goes to the patient who may face economic, emotional, and physical roadblocks.
It’s unsure how much providing transgender Veterans surgery would cost the VA but on average, they can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $60,000 per person. But no firm figure is emerging as of yet.
The transgender-Veterans Affairs community relationship could be heading to an awkward phase. Should the VA maintain its stance of lip service rather than delivering, advocates seem ready to escalate things legally.
There was a target of finding a resolution for transgender Veterans by mid-December. Failure to add gender-affirming surgeries to its list of medical services, or at least show a working plan to move forward, meant that the VA would seek legal action taken against it, which is now in progress.