Transgender veterans sue to have gender-affirming surgeries covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs

A group of transgender veterans filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to force the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin defunding and paying for gender-affirming surgeries.

The Transgender American Veterans Association's lawsuit seeks to force the VA to codify into its regulations verbal assurances the department has given that it would begin providing those services, said Rebecca Eshler, the association's president.

She said surgery is needed to reduce the risk of suicide, depression and psychological distress for transgender people living with gender dysphoria.

"It would also mean that those veterans would not have to seek this care through private doctors, which is often extremely expensive," the Transgender Veterans Association said in its lawsuit. Circuit in Washington.

A spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs said it does not comment on ongoing litigation. But he pointed towards 2021 Statement by Dennis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who said the VA is beginning a years-long rule-making process that will result in gender-affirming surgeries being provided. McDonough said the VA will use the time to "develop the ability to meet the surgical needs" of transgender veterans.

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The decision, he said, “will allow transgender vets to go through the full gender affirmation process with the VA.”

Veterans first petitioned for the rule change in May 2016. Since then, the VA has held hearings and prepared several proposed rules for cost-benefit analysis, the association said. But while the VA currently provides hormone therapy and other services to transgender veterans in some locations, it has failed to change its rules in time and provide no coverage for the surgeries, the group said.

"I get calls from veterans who are in so much distress that they're calling us because they can't handle it anymore and they want to kill themselves," Eshler said.

Natalie Castner, 39-year-old disabled veteran texas, said she went to the VA for surgery in 2022. When doctors there rejected his request, he said he took a knife and attempted to castrate himself. She hit an artery and almost died, but doctors were able to save her life.

"I didn't go into that bathroom with the intention of killing myself," she said. “I went to that bathroom to fix myself. I can only imagine how many others have done the same and have not been so lucky and have simply been listed as suicide.

Eshler said he hopes the lawsuit will also standardize the care transgender veterans receive, noting that it can vary from state to state and even from clinic to clinic.

The lawsuit asks the court to force the VA to respond to the 2016 petition within 30 days.

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