Veterans who identify as transgender or nonbinary will now be able to have their gender identity listed on their official medical records at VA hospitals, according to a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
On Wednesday, the department announced it had added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary, “other,” in which veterans specify which gender they identify as, and “does not wish to disclose.” That gender identifier, along with a veteran’s preferred name, will now be displayed on patient health records.
Proponents of the change say it allows health care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients and identify any health risks they should be screened for, such as, for exams to check for breast cancer among transgender males or prostate exams for transgender females — which some doctors may not take into account if they are not as well-versed in transgender issues or trans-specific health care needs.
Backers of the change also say that information regarding a person’s gender identity could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination veterans may have faced that might affect their health outcomes, reports the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
“Our goal is to align the department’s policies and procedures with the president’s vision for a more inclusive government,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “All Veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves. This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender diverse Veterans helps us better serve them.”
This change continue’s McDonough’s efforts to make the military more inclusive for various personnel, including LGBTQ service members. Shortly after his confirmation, McDonough initiated an agency-wide review of the VA’s policies to determine how to make it a more welcoming and affirming place for LGBTQ patients and employees.
An 18-member task force was created to handle the review, ultimately issuing 88 recommendations for how the department could be more inclusive. One of the recommendations involved collecting information from patients and employees about their race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation — which allows the VA to collect and break down data on demographics to better target communities through outreach efforts and identify trends or patterns that indicate potential problems affecting certain groups, in order to resolve them quickly.
The VA also created a smaller task force charged with developing policies and implementing them based on those recommendations. According to Stars and Stripes, the process of considering those recommendations is expected to take up to four years.
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