Health Care

VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving to make gender-affirming surgeries covered by the department’s healthcare, Secretary Denis McDonough announced Saturday. 

While speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando Vet Center in Florida, McDonough said the agency was “taking the first necessary steps to expand VA’s care to include gender confirmation surgery,” which he said would allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA at their side,” according to CNN

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because 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 for quality health care,” he added. 

The Sentinel reported that McDonough’s announcement was welcomed by a cheering crowd as he added that transgender veterans “have called for and deserved for a long time” the VA to “develop capacity to meet” their “surgical needs.” 

CNN first reported the VA plans, citing an agency spokesperson. The spokesperson told the outlet that gender confirmation surgery has “been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and dysphoria.” 

On Saturday, McDonough reportedly said that “due in part to minority stress, 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.” 

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there are an estimated 134,000 transgender American veterans, with more than 15,000 trans people currently serving in the military. 

While the VA Health Benefits package currently covers mental health services and hormone therapy, it has not included coverage for gender confirmation surgery. 

The VA spokesperson who spoke to CNN said the department plans to begin the process of altering federal rules to include surgery coverage this summer. 

McDonough reportedly said Saturday that he has already spoken with members of Congress about the plans. 

The Hill has reached out to the VA for additional details on McDonough’s remarks and the plans for expanding health coverage. 

The news is the latest step the Biden administration has taken in favor of LGBT veterans and service members. Shortly after taking office, President Biden repealed a Trump-era ban on most transgender individuals serving in the military. 

The VA plans come as several GOP-led state legislatures have proposed or passed legislation banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth, including the use of hormone blockers and gender-affirming surgeries.

Tags anti-transgender legislation Denis McDonough Department of Veterans Affairs Donald Trump Florida health care coverage hormone therapy Hormones Joe Biden LGBTQ community Orlando pride month Transgender health care

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