Transgender Army veteran: ‘We’re fighting in the battlefield out here.’

Matt Saintsing
October 30, 2018 - 3:57 pm

Photo by Connecting Vets staff

Wearing impressive heels, a slick leather dress, and MAC makeup that she says it too expensive, Andrea Anderson is a reckoning force. But she wasn’t always the beaming ray of light; that came later as she chose to live openly as a transgender woman.

From 1980 to 1986, she served in the U.S. Army as Andre Anderson, a male food service specialist with the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division.

But as a veteran and transgender woman who came out in her 50’s, she’s made it her life’s goal to help other LGBT identified vets by offering advice, and a few laughs along the way.

As the president of the transgender support group at the DC VA, she’s helped some of the most vulnerable veterans in their moments of greatest need.

 “I got a phone call the other day, and someone who was LGBT was having a hard time,” she tells Connecting Vets. “It was a suicide call.”

Anderson took the call and stayed on the line until she was sure the person who called her in a gloomy state of desperation.

She knew just what to say, because, like so many LGBT individuals, she’s been there herself, attempting suicide twice in the summer of 2014.

“Being transgender you are human too,” she says. “It’s not like you’re not human…I can say for myself…for years and years I fought with this woman inside of me.”

That woman inside of her was bursting to come out even when she was a child. And while the Army provided her with a job, purpose, and a chance to serve something higher than herself, it suppressed who she was through the now-repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

So, she served her entire enlistment in the closet and chose not to come out until she was in her 50’s.

Today, however, she presses on and encourages everyone she meets to live the life they always wanted for themselves. For Anderson, that means living as a woman.

But the daily struggle, she says, is far from over.

 “Not only did we have to fight in the battlefield while in service, but we’re also fighting in the battlefield out here,” she says.

Transgender veterans encounter mental illness at a much higher rate than those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

According to one 2016 study, 90 percent of transgender veterans have at least one mental health diagnosis, and nearly half were hospitalized following a suicide attempt or expressing suicidal thoughts.

Helping to guide other LGBT vets is a battle worth fighting for even as she still faces resistance to her gender identity.

One issue came about when attempting to get the right medication at the VA, hormone therapy in particular. She was told at her local VA that they could get her estrogen pills, but not the liquid, which she needs to administer her shots.

 “I said, a VA in Ohio has the liquid, Texas has it, surely we can get it in Washington, D.C.,” she says.

Where it stands now, the VA does not perform any gender reassignment surgery, but Anderson is slated to be the first transgender veteran to have a breast augmentation procedure.

She says persuading the VA to conduct that procedure, which she views as a medical necessity, was a struggle.

“Being that we are now accepting transgender individuals into the military, we need somewhere to go, and it should be our own space,” says Anderson.

But still, she is her own best advocate and says the VA meets her needs “most of the time.”

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