Denis McDonough, the Veteran Affairs Secretary announced the move during a pride event at Orlando Vet Centre in Florida on Saturday. The gender confirmation surgery will be available through the veteran affairs health care coverage.
Mr McDonough said: “We are taking the first necessary steps to expand VA’s care to include gender confirmation surgery, thereby allowing transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA at their side.”
There are about 134,000 transgender veterans according to the National Centre for Transgender Equality.
Mr McDonough credited President Joe Biden for the move to include gender confirmation surgery in the VA health care coverage. He told the media: “It’s the president’s decision, and we’ve just announced today that we’re executing that decision.”
He added: “That decision will be carried out now over many, many months, but at the end of the day this is in the president’s authority to do. He’s made clear it’s time to do it and that’s precisely what we’ll do.”
The Veteran Affairs health benefits package includes coverage of mental health services and hormone therapy but so far it excluded the coverage or funding for gender confirmation surgery.
The decision, Mr McDonough said, was based on the “recommendation of our clinicians, so this is a health care decision that has very real physical health care impacts as well as significant mental health impacts.”
CNN quoted the veteran affairs spokesperson as saying that gender confirmation surgery has “been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and (gender) dysphoria.”
Jennifer Dane, executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ veterans and military service members, told CNN in a statement that changing the VA healthcare policy was a positive action towards creating real progress.
She added: “It takes more than words to make true progress and we are thrilled to hear Secretary McDonough’s announcement that the VA is expanding care to include gender confirmation surgery and updating health services to be more inclusive.”
Meanwhile, Mr McDonough said: “Due in part to minority stress, LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community, but they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.”
He added that it was because of this, it “perpetuates a cycle in which LGBTQ vets and individuals have lower rates of access to preventive care service, utilise health care services less frequently and have more negative experiences with health care.”