The Department of Veterans Affairs is actively preparing to begin providing gender confirmation surgery to veterans, Secretary Denis McDonough announced on Saturday.
McDonough made the announcement at a Pride Month event in Orlando, Fla. where he said the VA would soon begin allowing “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” the Associated Press reported.
“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he said.
The VA’s plan to begin providing gender confirmation surgery is expected to see a yearslong federal rulemaking process. McDonough said the VA will use the downtime in the lengthy bureaucratic process to “develop capacity to meet the surgical needs” of transgender veterans.
The plan to expand VA benefits to cover gender confirmation surgery comes months after President Joe Biden ordered the reversal of President Donald Trump’s ban on individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria from serving in the U.S. military. Gender dysphoria is the medical term for an individual’s conflict between their perceived gender and their biological sex. The Trump-era ban barred those diagnosed with gender dysphoria from serving, but allowed otherwise undiagnosed transgender individuals to serve under their biological sex. Biden’s decision, ordered within his first five days in office, effectively allowed openly transgendered individuals to serve in the military, regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
McDonough said the latest decision to begin providing gender confirmation surgeries through the VA follows 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,” he said.
According to new Department of Defense documents, the U.S. military has already spent $15 million on transgender-related medical treatment over the past five years for the 1,892 people within the ranks who have been officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Of that $15 million cost, about $3.1 million went to cover 243 different gender confirmation surgeries, an average cost of about $12,757 per surgery.
Another $11.5 million went to cover psychotherapy treatment for transgender troops and another $340,000 went to provide hormone therapy for transgender troops during that same five-year time frame.
The total number of service members across the military and veteran community who identify in a transgendered manner is unknown.
In 2018, The Palm Center, a public policy think tank focused on LGBT issues, estimated there are 14,707 transgender troops serve in the U.S. armed forces, including about 9,000 on active duty and 5,727 in military reserve components.
The National Center for Transgender Equality also estimates that there are about 15,000 transgender individuals currently serving in the military today and more than 134,000 transgender veterans outside the military.