The move would remove a long-held ban on the surgery and likely provide another cultural point of controversy in the wake of federal rules, issued last month, that mandate public schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they choose.
"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 proposed rule says.
"Additionally, recent medical research shows that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that has had severe medical consequences for certain patients if transition-related surgeries and procedures are not provided."
Advocates hailed the move as both an important step forward for equality and a signal that the department is committed to offering the best available health care to all veterans.
"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."
Decisions on whether veterans should undergo the surgery would be made on a case-by-case basis, after consultation with VA medical experts.
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 134,000 veterans are transgender, and more than 15,000 transgender individuals are serving in military today despite rules forbidding them from serving openly.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.