WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials are still evaluating whether to fund sex reassignment surgeries for transgender veterans following a months-long push from advocates asking the department to reverse its opposition to the procedure.
Last week, a group of 83 House members (82 Democrats and one Republican) petitioned VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to make the change, calling the current department policy discriminatory and potentially harmful to the health of those veterans.
“Simply put, the VA has an obligation to provide the necessary care that is prescribed to enrolled veterans by their health care practitioners,” the group said in a letter to Wilke.
“It is unconscionable to deny veterans the same access to health care services that civilians receive in the private sector, and that is available to Medicare beneficiaries and federal workers, simply because of outdated and unscientific prejudice against their gender identity.”
Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., led that effort and in a statement called it “unacceptable that we would ask our veterans to risk their lives to protect our rights but we would refuse to defend theirs in return.”
The move came at the end of a two-month comment period on the possible policy change. VA officials have discussed allowing the surgeries to be covered in the last few years, but have not made any updates, prompting some advocates to sue the department.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the department is reviewing comments collected during the summer on the issue and will announce any changes through formal federal channels.
In his confirmation hearing in July, Wilkie pledged the department would ensure that veterans seeking help from his VA “will all be treated with the respect and the support they deserve.”
When specifically asked about transgender veterans — and President Donald Trump’s past comments that the military should not provide medical treatments to transgender troops — Wilkie said that VA “is proud to provide care, benefits and othe VA services to all veterans, including transgender veterans. That policy will remain unchanged.”
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman Charlotte Clymer said the current VA policy “flies in the face of every major medical authority and undermines the health and wellbeing of transgender patriots who have laid their lives on the line for this country and their families.”
VA does provide medical support services for transgender individuals before and after sex reassignment surgery, but not the procedure itself.
Advocates estimate there are 160,000 transgender veterans in America today.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.