A long-held ban on gender confirmation surgery for transgender veterans will be lifted under a proposed new rule that would bring the Department of Veterans Affairs in line with federal rules, issued last month, that mandate public schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they choose.
The proposal states that past surgical procedures were poorly understood, according to Time, and considered experimental or cosmetic. By those definitions, officials felt justified denying the surgeries to veterans diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
“However, increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.”
The next step is for the proposed rule to be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. If approved, the rule will be sent back through the the agency’s bureaucracy and there will be an opportunity for public comment. A spokesperson told the magazine the proposal would authorize veterans hospitals to perform sex reassignment surgery, more commonly called gender confirmation surgery, or the agency would have to provide it through community hospitals. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow; the whole review from beginning to end could last up to 22 months, reported Time.
Still, word of the decision was warmly received by advocacy groups. “So many veterans rely on the VA for important medical care that they have earned serving our nation, including transgender veterans,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “Gender confirmation surgery is often a critically important and medically necessary treatment, and lifting this ban is long overdue.”
The impetus for the change was two transgender veterans who, with the help of Lambda Legal, launched a petition that the department provide equal treatment.
Because the department does not regularly keep records indicating their patients’ gender identity, officials can’t say how many veterans might seek such treatment. A report in 2014 showed the agency had treated at least 2,500 transgender veterans the previous year, and that number is expected to have grown exponentially since a 2011 directive that reminds staff to provide transition-related care “without discrimination.”