WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has delayed its plans to offer sex change operations for veteran service members due to insufficient funds.
“VA has been and will continue to explore a regulatory change that would allow VA to perform gender alteration surgery and a change in the medical benefits package, when appropriated funding is available,” it said in a statement on Monday.
The VA first announced its plans to lift its longstanding ban on what is called gender reassignment surgery in June after reportedly considering the move since 2014, releasing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking entitled “Removing Gender Alterations Restriction From the Medical Benefits Package.”
“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” it wrote of its intentions.
“In light of these medical advances and recent research, VA would revise its regulation to remove the prohibition on medical services that are considered gender alterations,” the Department said.
Six Democratic lawmakers have since called upon the VA to speedily following through with its plan: Reps. Mike Quigley of Illinois, Mike Honda and Jackie Speier of California, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.
“We urge you to move forward with publishing a proposed rule to remove the arbitrary and outdated restriction that prohibits VA from providing medical services to treat gender dysphoria,” they wrote to Secretary Robert McDonald in September.
But 30 Republican lawmakers also wrote to McDonald about the matter, stating that the VA should focus on improving service-related medical care rather than assisting men with their desire to become women.
“Currently, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employs classification groups to help ensure the Department’s limited resources are focused first on veterans with service-connected disabilities. Many veterans struggle to receive appropriate and timely treatment for service-connected conditions, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to significant backlogs and inadequate access within the VA’s health care system,” the letter noted.
“We do not believe the VA should be discussing the potential coverage of gender alteration surgeries as the agency faces challenges in delivering health care to those veterans whose service directly resulted in their need for medical treatments,” it said.
The letter was signed by Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming of Louisiana, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Bill Flores of Texas, Jason Smith of Missouri and Andy Harris of Maryland, among others. Boustany, Fleming and Harris are physicians.
On Monday, transgender advocacy groups expressed disappointment that the matter had been stalled.
“All of our nation’s veterans, regardless of their gender identity, deserve access to the medical care they earned serving our nation,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, told reporters. “This is a deeply disappointing setback in making sure an often medically necessary procedure for transgender veterans is part of that care.”
However, others, such as Susan Wright of RedState remarked that “[i]t’s insanity to foot the bill for such surgery … when there are vets dying while waiting on actual medical needs to be met.”
The VA is already offering “hormone therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation” and other services, according to a statement from the department to the Military Times.