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Dems to VA: Change transgender surgery rule 'swiftly'

Dems to VA: Change transgender surgery rule 'swiftly'
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A group of six Democratic lawmakers is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to quickly lift its ban on covering transition-related surgeries for transgender veterans.

"We write to you today as members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Transgender Equality Task Force to urge the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to move swiftly to ensure access to medically necessary surgical care for transgender veterans," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “We urge you to move forward with publishing a proposed rule to remove the arbitrary and outdated restriction that prohibits VA from providing medical services to treat gender dysphoria."

The letter was led by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and also signed by Democratic Reps. Mike Honda (Calif.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.).

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In June, news emerged of a VA proposal that would allow coverage of surgeries deemed medically necessary on a case-by-case basis. At the time, VA officials said the change had been in the works since 2014.

The proposal does not include a timeline for when coverage might begin, but such changes can take years to come into place.

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 1999.

In their letter, the lawmakers said the ban runs counter to steps being taken elsewhere in the Obama administration, including at the Pentagon, to eliminate blanket prohibitions on covering surgical care for transgender people.

“This exclusion denies transgender veterans critically important medical care currently available to VA employees, Medicare beneficiaries and, most recently, active duty military service members,” the lawmakers wrote.

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In recently lifting its ban on transgender troops serving openly, the Defense Department said all medically necessary care would be covered, including surgery.

The ban is also not required by statute, the lawmakers wrote.

In addition to the Pentagon’s historic change at the end of June, this year has been 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, a guidance that is now the subject of multiple lawsuits. 

“This past year has proved historic for transgender equality and visibility,” the lawmakers wrote. “We’ve made significant gains, yet more works remains to be done and call on you to continue moving towards VA adoption of the proposed rule to permit surgical care for transgender veterans.”