Wilkie to Senate: No change to transgender policy

Jonathan Kaupanger
July 13, 2018 - 1:32 pm



The person tapped to become the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs has stated publically that he will not make changes to VA’s transgender policy.

The two-hour nomination hearing for Robert Wilkie in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meeting last month, left a few committee members with more questions. Wilkie responded to the questions and in a statement said that if confirmed, the VA’s policy on transgender veterans would not change. 

Taken at face value, this is good news, but according to Evan Young, National President of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), things should change. “The medical package as of right now does not include any surgeries,” said Young. “We are just like any other veterans that has served their country. When you signed on the dotted line of the contract with the U.S. Government, they agree to certain things. One is medically necessary care. We have fulfilled our part of the contract, now the U.S. Government needs to fill theirs.”

VA’s policy is to provide care to all transgender veterans in the way that is consistent with their self-identified gender identity. It also states that VA will not provide or pay for gender reassignment surgery. What the agency will do is take care of transgender veteran’s post-op care and coordinate all medications with the surgeon who performs reassignment surgery.

“It doesn’t mean that they can’t do the surgery,” says Young. “VA has the capability so we know it can be done. But it’s strictly forbidden in the medical package that is there right now.”

Senators also asked about Wilkie’s part in creating the Trump Administration’s policy that bans transgender troops from serving in the military. He said that he recused himself from that decision as his confirmation to his post at the Pentagon happened after the legal challenges to the ban started.

“When you’re in the military, it’s very difficult,” says Young, who retired from the Army as a Major in 2013.  He says when he was in, and the ban was still in place and life for active duty transgender military was relegated to the closet.  “And that closet is very small.”  He said that it’s very different when compared to lesbian, gay and bisexual military members.  There’s a community that you can be part of, but it’s not the same for the transgender community.  “But when you’re transgender, that closet gets really small. You can’t really tell anyone, at least in your work environment for fear that you’ll be outed.”

But now as a veteran, Young says his life isn’t as stressful. “It is challenging navigating the VA,” he says. “You find pockets of discrimination, but you also find pockets of hope. We have many advocates that are really trying to do a great job at the VA and I applaud them.”

Wilkie told the committee that he is committed to keeping VA an all-inclusive workplace. He also promised quick disciplinary action for any VA employees who are found to be guilty of discrimination.

Wilkie’s nomination passed the committee vote with only one member, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) giving a no vote. The full Senate vote on Wilkie is not set yet, but could happen as early as next week.

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