Transgender vets seek VA coverage of surgeries

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Transgender veterans are petitioning the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover gender transition-related surgeries.

“I served my country with pride, and I should be treated just like my fellow veterans who have access to the treatment they need,” Dee Fulcher, one of the petitioners, said in a written statement Tuesday.

{mosads}The petition for a rule change was filed by Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Fulcher and another transgender veteran, Gio Silva, as well as the 2,200-plus member Transgender American Veterans Association.

The VA already covers transition-related care for transgender vets including hormone replacement therapy and pre- and post-surgical care.

But it doesn’t cover any actual surgery, a ban the petition calls “arbitrary and capricious.”

Surgeries such as mastectomies or penile implants are covered to treat issues such as cancer and traumatic injuries. But transgender veterans can’t get coverage for the same surgeries, says the petition, which was filed late Monday.

Further, the petition says, transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. That’s the same argument the Justice Department is making against a controversial North Carolina law that requires transgender people use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex.

Fulcher, one of the petitioners, served in the Marines until 1992. She came out as a transgender woman and began treatment in 2013. Two VA clinicians have recommended gender reassignment surgeries, but she can’t get them without VA coverage, according to the petition.

“I feel like I am being made less of a person, and it is devastating for me, both emotionally and for my physical health, that it is excruciating to be trapped in gender purgatory because the surgery I need is denied through the VA because I’m transgender,” she said.

Silva, the other individual petitioner, served in the Army from 2008 to 2012. In 2015, a VA doctor recommended he get a mastectomy, not because he is transgender, but because he suffers from severe back pain, according to the petition.

But another VA doctor determined Silva wanted the surgery primarily for gender transition and told Silva the surgery wouldn’t be covered, according to the petition.

“My doctor told me that I needed to have surgery because of my severe back pain, but simply because I am transgender, a procedure that is available to thousands of other veterans will not be covered by the VA for me,” he said in a written statement. “I made a commitment to the Army, and I kept it until I retired, but it is heartbreaking for me that this policy on transition-related surgery keeps the VA from upholding its duty to me.”

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