There are currently about 5,000 transgender Veterans receiving their healthcare from VA.

“That is certainly an undercount because not all transgender Veterans want to identify themselves to their provider,” noted Dr. Michael Kauth, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).  Kauth is also a psychologist at the Houston VA and a professor in the Psychiatry Department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Transgender people, according to Wikipedia, are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex.

Kauth said VA provides gender transition counseling, evaluations for hormone therapy, and evaluations for gender transition surgeries.

“VA doesn’t perform those surgeries, and doesn’t pay for them,” he said. “But we’ll be there to help the Veteran out if somethings happens to go wrong after transition surgery.  If complications occur following surgery, VA will provide the Veteran with medically necessary care.”

And for Veterans who are still in the process of transitioning, there’s counseling.

Following Your Path

“A VA counselor will talk to the Veteran about their transition goals, and how to achieve them safely,” Kauth said. “Our job is to help the Veteran successfully navigate their gender transition pathway, and to support them.”

Making sure transgender Vets get the support and understanding they deserve is the job of Dr. Jillian Shipherd, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program and a clinical research psychologist at the Boston VA.  She said a big part of her job is making sure providers throughout the VA system are properly trained in how to interact with this very special segment of the Veteran community.

“We live in a largely gender binary world where we want things to be one way or another. But life is vastly more complex than that.”

“As a transgender person you’re accustomed to dealing with all sorts of issues on a daily basis,” she explained. “But when you walk into a VA facility you shouldn’t have to worry about that.  So here at VA we need to work extra hard to overcome any fear or anxiety you might be experiencing.  We want to make sure that you, as a transgender Vet, are getting the healthcare you need and the respect you have earned.”

Shipherd said transgender Veterans, like other minorities, tend to have considerably more stress in their lives than the rest of us.

“Veterans are at increased risk for suicide relative to the general population,” she observed, “and transgender Vets are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other Veterans.  This statistic highlights the level of daily stress some of our transgender Vets are experiencing.”

So… Why so Much Stress?

“As a transgender Vet one of your biggest battles is discrimination, which can take many forms–some subtle and some not so subtle,” Shipherd explained. “As a transgender Vet you might face discrimination where you work, or you might have trouble finding a job at all. You might face discrimination when you try to rent an apartment or purchase a home, or a car, or even a pair of shoes. You might face discrimination from your own family –your parents, your brothers and sisters, even your own children. That’s a lot of stress.”

She continued: “Being transgender can affect every aspect of your life. When you go to the bank to get a loan, you might experience some problems due to a lack of credit history under your new name. When you go to a new dentist for the first time, you might be worried about explaining why you’re on certain medications or hormone therapy.”

Dr. Jillian Shipherd

Dr. Jillian Shipherd

Is There a Problem, Officer?

And then there’s the dreadful event that tends to generate anxiety in all of us, but especially members of any minority group:  getting pulled over by a police officer.

“Any encounter you might have with law enforcement can be stressful, or downright scary,” Shipherd said. “Can you imagine being stopped by a police officer late one evening?  What are you feeling as the officer gets out of their cruiser and approaches your vehicle?  Are you nervous?  Are you afraid?  What will the officer say when they look at your driver’s license and it says John Doe, only you look like Jane Doe?”

Shipherd said the unfortunate reality is that most transgender Veterans live with fear every day of their lives. “Just walking out of your house can provoke anxiety,” she said. “Chances are people on the street may roll their eyes when they see you, or actually snicker or laugh.  Some might verbally harass you.  And of course, there is the risk of physical violence.  It’s not an easy life.  This is why we work so hard at VA to make our transgender patients feel welcomed, and respected.  We want them to know that when they come to VA they’re coming to a safe place.”

To make sure VA is a safe and welcoming place, the Department offers three levels of nation-wide training to help VA healthcare providers get up to speed on how to successfully interact with their transgender patients and how to address their sometimes unique healthcare concerns.  (For more info on what kind of LGBT training VA is providing to its personnel, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp

And Everything In Between

Shipherd said this kind of sensitivity training is essential, since even well-meaning VA staff can experience anxiety when interacting with a transgender patient — thus causing the patient to feel anxious.

“Sometimes even a well-intentioned healthcare provider can mishandle their encounter with a transgender Vet,” she said. “It’s not that they’re trying to be insensitive or callus; they’re simply not educated in culturally appropriate care.  So it’s our job to provide that education, to make sure our healthcare staff and providers are trained in how to communicate and connect with transgender patients.”

She added: “We all need to understand that gender is more complicated than what we like to think.  Male and female are not the only options.  Gender identity exists on a continuum, with male and female being the extreme endpoints.  Then you have everything in-between.”

To learn more about LGBT services offered at the Boston VA, visit http://www.boston.va.gov/services/Lesbian_Gay_Bisexual_and_Transgender_Veterans.asp

To learn more about some of the services VA is providing to transgender Veterans nationwide, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp

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12 Comments

  1. Leon Suchorski January 7, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Back in the 60s, we had some in the Marines that were homosexuals. As long as they were the Marine that they joined to be, we did not care. What they did off base on liberty time, was as much their business as what everyone else did on their own time. So, if we did not have any problems with this 50 years ago, and in a war zone, what is the problem now? They are vets who served honorably and that is all that counts.

  2. RAY J. FLOYD January 7, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    LESS HATE + MORE LOVE = PEACE

  3. Mike Smith January 7, 2017 at 12:06 am

    If this kind of information was fully disclosed 50 years ago, I’m certain there would have been fewer casualties in any war because there would have been fewer volunteers and many more visits to north of the border.

  4. Frank Vega January 6, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    It took almost two years to be to see my doctor which of pisses me off. Now, if the va can’t handle the amount of veterans needing to see doctors for physical and mental illness how can they offer services to them. This is crazy. And I agree God didn’t make a mistake and made only male and female, there is no 3rd, 4th, 5th. ……gender.

  5. Elizabeth Daniel January 6, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Out of respect for the uniform, the flag, and Americans, have the operation first, then put on the dress. All these sexual issues are just to throw into the face of the majority. It’s not like race, gender, or disability (which is not at the same level) which can not be hidden. Respect? It goes both ways.

    That just my opinion if any one cares.

  6. Paula January 6, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    No offence to LGBT but come on! The VA doesn’t give service connected disabled vets the respect of good healthcare, let’s start with so called priority 1 group.

  7. Victor Sellers January 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Sick and Pathetic. The VA denied me and my dependents all service connection and medical care, medicine, examination specialists, all test procedures, compensation, pension, and disability after I was permanently injured and disabled in Vietnam requiring medical evacuation over 45 years ago, but with open arms are there for the lesbian, gay, sick bisexuals, and transgenders. They will be happy to provide you all the health care you need after you have your penis cut off, and 100% disability when it goes wrong and you develop problems, and can’t work. This disgusts me to the core when I think of how the VA [redacted] me, but bent over for the LGBT that now rule the VA, our Federal government, and Hollywood. The VA denied me every medical need possible and lied about having my medical treatment records for 45 years, and is the direct cause of my health worsening. The VA favors the LGBT OVER VIETNAM VETERANS, and let us die while spending it’s resources taking care of men like Ralph and George that had their penis cut off. File for double disability for being a man without a penis and is psychologically scared, and a woman that is traumatically scared by having recurring nightmares of being a man!

    Editor’s note: This comment was redacted in part per VA’s social media policy.

    • Juan Madera January 6, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Hell no they don’t deserve VA treatment, no way, no how. Treat Veteran’s with major problems, PTSD, etc., instead of 5000 useless veterans that identify themselves with a different gender?
      this is crazy. Can’t wait until Mr. Trump takes charge and nominate a worthy individual to replace the VA high echelon as well as the Sec. of Defense Carter.

    • Susan Post Smith January 6, 2017 at 10:43 pm

      Thank God there have been many improvements in the handling of veterans’ entitlements to medical care through the VA in the last 45 years and in the quality of healthcare providers. Some of us can recall when VA medical providers didn’t have to be licensed in any U.S. state to be hired by the VA and allowed to medically treat veterans. I pray that V Sellers represents a very tiny portion of veterans. And, I hope the VA will continue to very openly and supportively address the medical and mental health problems of LGBTQ veterans.
      Those men and women who served in the military deserve their entitlements to appropriate medical care for gender identification issues as much as I deserve treatment for my service-related medical problems that I repeatedly have to fight with the VA to have treated.
      I didn’t serve 30 grueling years in the Army and Army Reserve during peace and wartime, in the U.S.and overseas, to protect the rights of only heterosexual men and women. I wore the uniform and performed my duties to defend the precious rights all U.S. citizens.
      I’m pleased that recent past and current civilian and military leaders at senior levels are showing compassion and concern for all veterans, regardless of their gender or gender identification-related physical and psychological issues.

  8. Daniel Erline January 6, 2017 at 11:18 am

    SUPPORT EX-LGBT VETERANS = PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH OTHERS YOU MAY KNOW. THIS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED WITHIN THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION.

  9. Junk Bin January 6, 2017 at 10:28 am

    These are mentally ill people with a perverted view . They need reality lessons about there are only two sexes ( male and female) and that is a biological fact. Their delusional feeling are just that, DELUSIONAL They need a kick in the psycological arse and a kiss on the pecker

    • John Cox January 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

      It is the society in which we live, at least the transphobes like the commenter above, who are “mentally ill.” Homophoboes, iphones, transphobes have a perverted view of sexuality and sex and gender. It is a biological fact that in trans-species of animals, there exist both sex organs in the same individuals. Society and homophobe, iphones, transphobes need a swift kick in their arses. . . .

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