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VA drops plans to allow sex change surgeries

November 14, 2016 (Photo Credit: Leo Shane III/Staff)
Veterans Affairs officials are dropping controversial plans to allow sex-change surgeries for transgender veterans, not because of criticism but instead due to budget constraints.

The move, first reported by Military.com, is a significant setback for LGBT advocates and raises questions on whether the surgeries will be offered anytime in coming years, given conservative control of the White House and Congress in 2017.

In a statement Monday, VA officials said they plan on continuing to offer assistance to transgender veterans by offering “hormone therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation” and other services.

But pursuing a rule change to allow the long-held ban on VA physicians offering the surgeries will be delayed until “when appropriated funding is available.”

Department leaders suggested in June that they would work to overturn the ban this year, to allow sex-change operations to take place in coming years. On Monday, they indicated that they still believe the idea is worthwhile, even if not financially feasible.

“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area has improved significantly and is now widely accepted as medically necessary treatment,” the statement said. “VA has been and will continue to explore a regulatory change that would allow VA to perform gender alteration surgery…”

Numerous conservative groups decried the proposal earlier this summer, calling it ridiculous for taxpayers to foot the bill for the controversial procedure.

Some Republican lawmakers have also pushed back in recent months against Defense Department plans released this summer to allow transgender troops to serve openly, and to develop plans for sex reassignment surgeries in the near future.

Republican leaders included language objecting to “social engineering” in the ranks in the party’s political platform at the GOP convention in July. President-elect Donald Trump has not specifically commented on the VA surgery proposal, but crafted his campaign around a return to “traditional” values and railing against political correctness.

On Monday, officials from the LGBT advocacy group American Military Partner Association called the VA decision upsetting.  

“All of our nation's veterans, regardless of their gender identity, deserve access to the medical care they earned serving our nation," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement.

"This is a deeply disappointing setback in making sure an often medically necessary procedure for transgender veterans is part of that care. Moreover, as we face a new incoming administration, we implore fair-minded Americans to stand united in holding our new administration officials accountable by insisting this be fixed.”



Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com .

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