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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is dropping plans to cover transition-related surgical expenses for transgender veterans, citing budget constraints.
Back in June, VA officials publicly proposed a rule change aimed at lifting a longstanding ban on covering transition surgery beginning next year. Currently, the VA offers transgender veterans hormones and pre- and post-surgical care, but does not cover the actual cost of the surgery itself.
Despite acknowledging that the proposal had received some pushback from social conservatives, the VA insists that its motives for not pursuing the rule change are solely financial. Department officials also indicated in a statement that the plan to cover surgical expenses had merit and was worth pursuing when it was more financially feasible.
“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area has improved significantly and is now widely accepted as medically necessary treatment,” the statement read. “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.”
According to Military.com, which first reported the news, the Office of Management and Budget had rejected the proposal to cover transition surgery because VA didn’t indicate how it was going to pay for it.
But for all the concerns about increased costs, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year estimated that covering transition-related care for transgender military personnel would be “negligible” and “amounts to little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion health care budget.”
Even if funding were to become available for such medical expenses, the larger question of whether surgery will be covered in the future may revolve around policies adopted by the incoming Trump administration. Trump’s position on transgender rights is confusing and contradictory at best, indicating he wants to protect LGBT people while at the same time telling social conservatives that the military had become too “politically correct.”
Any future rule change may also depend on the amount of leeway that Trump gives to his Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who is expected to be retiring U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). Representing a conservative mostly rural district in North Florida, Miller has racked up an anti-LGBT voting record in Congress, although he has not been one of the more vocal anti-LGBT voices in the body or within the Republican caucus.
The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the nation’s largest organization representing LGBT military members and their families, expressed its disappointment at the news.
“All of our nation’s veterans, regardless of their gender identity, deserve access to the medical care they earned serving our nation,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “This is a deeply disappointing setback in making sure an often medically necessary procedure for transgender veterans is part of that care. Moreover, as we face a new incoming administration, we implore fair-minded Americans to stand united in holding our new administration officials accountable by insisting this be fixed. The medical care of all our nation’s heroes, including transgender veterans, must be a priority.”
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