June 21, 2021
The Veterans Administration will offer gender affirmation surgery to transgender veterans, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Saturday during a Pride Month event in Orlando.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, McDonough said the policy change is the right thing to do for people who have been persecuted for their sexual orientation. VA clinicians reported that many LGBTQ+ veterans suffer mental health problems because of discrimination, he said.
“For generations, service members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or related identities faced brazen discrimination or even worse — not just in our Armed Forces, but in so many aspects of their lives,” McDonough said.
“That is the dark history we must overcome, at VA and in America, and it echoes to this day, in horrific incidents like the Pulse nightclub shooting that devastated this community five years ago.”
McDonough said it may take several years to expand the VA’s ability to perform the surgeries.
“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time, and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” McDonough said.
VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said the department expects fewer than 4,000 veterans would want the surgery, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
A 2016 RAND Corp. study estimated there could be 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty transgender troops, but that the true number could vary.
The announcement is a major shift from current VA policy. In 2013, the VA started providing mental health counseling and prescription hormone therapy for transgender veterans but denied coverage for sex reassignment surgery.
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden in January overturned former President Donald Trump’s ban on openly transgender people serving in the U.S. military.