A transgender veterans group has sued the federal government for not including transgender surgery in VA health benefits, NBC News reported.
While the VA covers non-surgical transgender procedures, including hormone therapy, hair removal, fertility preservation, and voice training, veterans must pay for surgical procedures out of pocket or through private insurance.
In May 2016, the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) filed a petition requesting that the VA change its rules to allow surgical procedures to be covered in its benefits. However, after eight years, the VA has not responded to the petition.
In a lawsuit filed on January 25 in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, TAVA asked the court to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs to respond to its 2016 petition and begin the process of changing health benefits to include transgender surgeries for veterans.
In a statement to NBC the day before the lawsuit was filed, TAVA President Rebekka Eshler said some transgender veterans have said they have struggled with suicidal thoughts because they are unable to access the surgeries they need to make their transition.
Eschler said it wasn’t enough to tell these veterans to be patient when they are “reaching out because they’re at death’s door.” Eschler accused the federal government of using transgenders “for political gain” while refusing to keep its word.
Shortly after Biden took office, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced that the VA was taking steps to expand its benefits to include transgender surgical procedures. McDonough said the department was making the move “methodically” to ensure that the policy change was implemented in a way that maintained the VA’s “rigorous standards of quality health care.”
Currently, the federal government only covers the cost of transgender surgeries for active-duty military personnel.
The lawsuit accuses the VA of placing transgender veterans at risk for suicide, physical harm, and “psychological distress.”