Transgender veterans will be offered gender confirmation surgery paid for by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, its secretary announced Saturday.
Denis McDonough told an event in Orlando to celebrate Pride Month that the move was ‘the right thing to do’. He spoke a week after the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in the Florida city, which saw 49 people killed at the gay bar.
McDonough said the new policy was part of an effort to overcome a ‘dark history’ of discrimination against LGBTQ service members.
Gender confirmation surgery used to be known as gender reassignment surgery, and involves changing a trans person’s body to align with the gender they identify as.
The cost was of the program unclear, but Terrence Hayes, VA spokesman, told The Washington Post that they expect fewer than 4,000 people to take up the offer. VA statistics estimate that there are a total of 134,000 transgender veterans, although it is unclear whether they have already gone gender confirmation surgery, or have decided not to do so.
The cost of medical treatments can add up to more than $100,000, Insider reported in 2019. Fees for the surgery are often not covered by insurance companies, which consider the procedures cosmetic. Many trans people say having a body that matches the gender they identify as is crucial to their mental health and wellbeing.
The move is just the first step in what’s likely to be a years-long federal rulemaking process to expand VA health benefits to cover the surgery, but McDonough said the VA will use the time to ‘develop capacity to meet the surgical needs’ of transgender veterans.