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Veteran suing military for not covering transgender surgery for adult child

An LGBTQ Pride flag flies over Bob Hart Square in downtown Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (File photo: Andrew Kuhn/TNS)
November 23, 2022

A U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps veteran has filed a federal lawsuit arguing that his 21-year-old child’s gender affirming surgery should be covered under medical benefits.

The GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), a Boston-based LGBT legal advocacy group, filed the lawsuit in a federal court in Maine on Monday on behalf of the veteran, who served in the Air Force and Marine Corps for 23 years. The veteran is referred to in the lawsuit by the alias “John Doe.”

According to GLAD, John Doe receives healthcare coverage through the military’s TRICARE health plan, which is part of the Department of Defense’s Military Health System.

The lawsuit states John Doe’s child, anonymized as “Jane Doe,” was “assigned the sex of male at birth” but “has known that she is female since age 11 or 12.” The lawsuit states Jane Doe was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age 17 in 2018 and has undergone psychological counseling, social transitioning and hormone replacement therapy with testosterone blockers and estrogen supplements.

The Military Health System has covered Jane Doe’s gender transition thus far under John Doe’s health plan. Jane Doe has also undergone facial feminization and voice feminization surgeries as part of the gender transition, but the Military Health System has not reimbursed the cost.

The lawsuit states Jane Doe’s surgeries are not being reimbursed by the Military Health System because of a federal law that prohibits the military from providing coverage for “sex change” surgeries. The law, 10 USC Section 1079 (referenced in the lawsuit as Section 1079) has been in place since 1976.

Jane Doe has also been denied coverage for laser hair removal and electrolysis to eliminate visible male facial hair. The lawsuit states that even though those procedures are not surgeries and are not expressly banned by Section 1079, the Military Health System has denied coverage on the grounds “that they are cosmetic and not medically necessary,” a basis that the lawsuit says is “erroneous and unlawful.”

“I just want what others who have served their country want – the ability to take care of my family,” said John Doe. “My family has served right alongside me. My wife and I want our daughter to be healthy and happy, like any parents would. My daughter shouldn’t be denied the healthcare she needs just because she’s transgender.”

GLAD Attorney Jennifer Levi, who brought legal challenges to the military’s previous bans on service by transgender members, said the military has made “serious progress in treating transgender service members more fairly. And now it’s time to end this outdated and archaic denial of healthcare for transgender members of military families.”