The Department of Veterans Affairs may cover transition-related surgeries for transgender veterans in the near future under a proposed rule change.
The rule change, first reported by Time late Thursday, would lift a long-standing ban and follow a similar change made to Medicare in 2014.
“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” the proposal reads. “In light of these medical advances and recent research, VA would revise its regulation to remove the prohibition on medical services that are considered gender alterations.”
The news of the proposal comes after two transgender veterans petitioned the VA for the change last month.
It’s unclear when the change was officially proposed, but VA officials told Time it has been in the works since 2014.
The VA already covers transition-related care for transgender vets, including hormone replacement therapy and pre- and post-surgical care.
But it’s been barred from covering any actual surgery since the 1990s.
In the proposal, the VA says medical evidence on the safety and necessity of such surgeries was unclear before.
But that’s changed, the proposal says.
“Additionally, recent medical research shows that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that has had severe medical consequences for certain patients if transition-related surgeries and procedures are not provided,” the proposal says.
The decision to undergo surgery would be made on a case-by-case basis, the proposal adds.
The proposal does not include a timeline for when coverage might begin, but such changes can take years to come into place.
Advocacy groups hailed the news of the proposed change.
"This is incredibly welcome news for so many transgender veterans and their families," Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a written statement. "So many veterans rely on the VA for important medical care that they have earned serving our nation, including transgender veterans. Gender confirmation surgery is often a critically important and medically necessary treatment for transgender veterans, and lifting this ban is long overdue."
The proposal comes during a time of great change and uproar over transgender rights. In the wake of a controversial North Carolina law that requires people to use the bathrooms of their sex at birth, the Obama administration issued guidance to public school districts telling them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
The Pentagon has also said it intends to lift the ban on transgender troops serving openly after a working group studies the effects. The military healthcare system has also proposed expanding coverage for transgender-related treatment, though not for surgery.