The VA will make gender confirmation surgery available to trans veterans

31 March 2021: This picture shows American President Joe Biden giving strength during press conference
President Joe Biden (D) Photo: Shutterstock

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has announced that VA healthcare will soon cover gender confirmation surgery for transgender veterans.

McDonough made the announcement in a speech at the Orlando Vet Center in Florida, where he emphasized that adding this coverage “has very real physical health care impacts as well as significant mental health impacts.”

Related: Biden administration extends Title IX protections to LGBTQ students

“Due in part to minority stress,” McDonough continued, “LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community, but they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.”

“And 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.”

It is “unacceptable,” he said, that LGBTQ veterans have more negative healthcare experiences and less access to the lifesaving care they need.

McDonough also said it was President Biden who ultimately made the choice to add this coverage.

“It’s the President’s decision, and we’ve just announced today that we’re executing that decision. That decision will carry out now over many, many months, but at the end of the day this is in the President’s authority to do,” McDonough said. “He’s made clear it’s time to do it and that’s precisely what we’ll do.”

Throughout his presidency, in fact, Biden has been very clear that he aims to support the transgender community, and specifically transgender people in the military. Before he even took office, he appointed a transgender veteran to his transition team, and in January, he overturned the Trump-era transgender military ban.

He also made history by appointing a transgender Assistant Health Secretary and he has repeatedly promised to take greater steps to support trans youth and end violence against the trans community.

According to CNN, the process to implement the new VA healthcare policy will begin this summer, but with all the red tape it takes to change a federal policy, it could be years before it actually takes effect.

“We want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards of quality health care,” McDonough said.

In a statement, Jennifer Dane, Executive Director of LGBTQ+ military advocacy organization the Modern Military Association of America, applauded the move.

“It takes more than words to make true progress and we are thrilled to hear Secretary McDonough’s announcement that the VA is expanding care to include gender confirmation surgery and updating health services to be more inclusive,” Dane said. “These are clear examples of turning words into actions, the only way we can keep marching forward,” said Dane.

“Repealing the ban on transgender military service was one more step forward in the long battle for inclusion in the DoD and VA, but not the last. Now both departments must remain fully committed to these inclusive actions by delivering the healthcare and support services all military members and veterans require, regardless of how they identify.”

Gina Duncan, the director of transgender equality for Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that “In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter. Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

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