Bipartisan group urges VA to lift ban on gender reassignment surgeries

Matt Saintsing
September 07, 2018 - 9:38 pm

A bipartisan group of 84 lawmakers is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to end its ban on  gender reassignment surgeries and other “medically necessary treatments” for transgender veterans. 

“It is wrong to single out any group of veterans to deny access to medically necessary care,” they wrote in a letter sent to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Friday.

“By excluding medically necessary treatments from its medical benefits package, the VA hurts transgender veterans who have served their country, harming their health and in some cases putting their lives at risk.”

The VA has had a moratorium on certain “gender alterations” since 1999. The dozens of signatories say that practice is “based on antiquated and discriminatory claims” that the treatments may lead to suicidal thoughts.

The letter argues that in a 2016 analysis, the VA admits their exclusion of these procedures based on a disproved assumption the treatments “were not medically necessary.”

“In fact, evidence shows that denying patients access to this medically-recommended procedure can increase risk of suicide,” the letter reads.

Both the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association support gender reassignment surgeries as a valid treatment.

The letter is spearheaded by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.).

“More than 160,000 transgender service members have put their lives on the line in order to protect our constitutionally protected freedoms, including the right to live free from discrimination,” Brownley said in a statement. 

“It is simply unacceptable that we would ask our veterans to risk their lives to protect our rights but we would refuse to defend theirs in return.”

While it’s true that transgender veterans represent a small portion of the overall veteran population, transgender Americans are twice as likely to have served their country, compared to the general U.S. population.

Charlotte Clymer, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, said supporting veterans is “one of our government’s most sacred obligations, regardless of their gender identity.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ exclusion of many forms of transition-related health care 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,” she said.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, added “denying any veteran the medical treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives is antithetical to VA’s core mission, and to do so based on a prejudiced world-view that disregards scientific consensus is disgraceful.”

The letter is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Equality California, and the Palm Center.

Click here to view the letter.