Story at a glance
- Veterans in the U.S. may now identify as transgender or nonbinary in official health documentation, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week.
- The move will not only allow healthcare providers to better care for veterans, but will also “save lives,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said.
- Several studies have highlighted negative mental health outcomes for transgender veterans and active-duty service members who may feel pressured to conceal their gender identity.
Veterans in the U.S. are now able to identify as transgender and and nonbinary in official medical records, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week.
“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”
It also allows healthcare providers within the VA better understand the needs of their patients, he said.
The VA last year began including gender identifiers in its medical record system, which now includes “transgender male,” “transgender female,” “non-binary,” “other,” or “does not wish to disclose” options.
Speaking at a Pride Month event in Orlando, Fla. last year, McDonough affirmed his support for transgender and LGBTQ+ veterans, and pledged to expand access to care for transgender vets, the Washington Post reported.
McDonough at the time said he wants “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side.”
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.
In a 2016 survey, nearly 65 percent of transgender veterans reported being diagnosed with depression, compared with just 31 percent of trans active-duty service members. Transgender veterans also reported higher rates of anxiety and substance abuse disorders.
Research on transgender active-duty service members is limited, in part because data was difficult to collect under a Trump-era ban on transgender people serving in the military. That policy was repealed by President Biden during his first week in office.
Data collection on the health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops was also hindered by “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a former military policy that was rolled back in 2011.
But the stigma attached to LGBTQ+ military service is still very much alive.
A 2015 qualitative study of just over a dozen transgender active-duty service members found that “having to conceal one’s gender identity itself was a significant source of distress.” Those findings are consistent with research in 2013 which found that LGB veterans who served under DADT were more likely to experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Another 2013 study examining Veterans Health Administration patient records from 2000 to 2011 found that the rate of suicide-related events among veterans diagnosed with a gender identity disorder – also known as gender dysphoria – was more than 20 times higher than those of the general veteran population.
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