LGBT Veterans describe VA care, provide advice for others


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This is part one in a two-part series about VA care for Veterans with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) and Related Identities. Part two will run June 8, 2021.

Navy Veteran Marilu Fanning and Army Veteran Dylan Liebhart have followed different journeys through life. Different upbringings, generations and military services. Yet, the two share a passion for helping fellow Veterans receive the care they’ve earned. They have advice for fellow LGBT and Related Identities Veterans.

Military service

Fanning went into the Navy right out of high school in 1970. She served one shore duty enlistment on the East coast.

Fanning poses for a photo during boot camp.

Fanning poses for a photo during boot camp.

“Somehow I just lucked out that I was never in any kind of danger, but then there was no adventure or world sightseeing either,” she said.

Liebhart came from a Catholic family, joining the Army in 2002. He served for just over seven years with military police at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Riley, Kansas. Liebhart also deployed to Iraq for 15 months from September 2006 to December 2007. Serving during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Liebhart could not reveal sexual orientation.

“There was one occasion where someone casually mentioned my sexuality, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if my command sergeant major ever heard word about it again, I would be out of the military,” he said.

LGBT journey

Fanning said she was “clueless” about her gender and sexuality issues until already married. She said she had a slow journey of self-discovery.

“I really did not accept the truth of who I was until after my two children were grown,” she said.

She transitioned to female in 2006. In 2015, she turned to VA for care.

At the time a woman, Liebhart told a close friend in high school about her sexuality. The reception was poor, forcing Liebhart back into the closet. Liebhart lived as a female-presenting lesbian for many years, marrying another lesbian. Liebhart reached a point accepting the truth: she was not a woman.

“I thought I was fine,” Liebhart said. “But in time I came to see that who I was did not match the container I held myself in. I came out to my family and close friends as a trans man in my mid-30s and swiftly began the transition process.”

Now fully surgically transitioned, Liebhart said he lives “a complete and honest existence.” His lesbian wife and he still have a happy marriage.

Liebhart in Iraq.

Liebhart in Iraq.

Service at VA

For Fanning, she is a fan of her service at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital outside Chicago.

“For me, my VA experience has been all positive,” Fanning said. “Everyone at Hines treats me with the same respect as everyone else, whether I am here for a regular appointment or as an admitted patient.”

Fanning has used multiple health care services. This includes hormone treatment, group therapy and speech therapy. She said the speech therapy has been especially helpful, especially being a tall transgender woman with a deep voice.

“Having tried to affect a ‘feminine voice’ for so long on my own, and never having any real success, I had all but given up on being able to develop one in this lifetime,” Fanning said. “But the prospect of having access to real, professional vocal coaching certainly was an opportunity I could not pass up.”

Results

Fanning said while the therapy challenges her, the results boosted her confidence.

“After years of unsuccessfully trying on my own to speak in a more feminine voice I found out just how difficult it is,” she said. “Even with professional guidance it has not been easy. It was six to eight months of frustration before I started to have any amount of success at all. Then, those Improvements came in small, even subtle increments. These days, I mostly stay in what is now my real voice, all day, with few slip ups. Finally, my voice has become a true vocal representation of just who I am.”

Liebhart said his experience at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, has been positive.

“I have found Truman VA to be very accepting,” he said. “The environment is one of general openness and inclusion. This is not to say that providers themselves are always inclusive, but it gives one the sense of hope that you can find one who will be.”

Advice for others

Fanning, who received health care for years outside of VA, said she encourages all Veterans, including LGBT, to use VA.

“I find Hines to be first rate and far better than any private sector care that I have ever received,” she said.

Liebhart said like any health care system, finding the right provider is critical.

“For instance, when I approached my primary care provider about starting HRT, I was met with absolute support and guidance,” he said. “In fact, every step of the transition process was made smoother by the support of various providers.”

He said VA providers aren’t always ready to deal with transgendered patients.

“I shocked the pants off of an EKG tech once when I took off my shirt off, and he wasn’t able to easily compose himself,” he said. Liebhart also said providers have not always agreed on courses of action because of inexperience with transgender care. He said his best advice for others is to advocate for care they’ve earned.

“I would tell other LGBT Veterans to be bold about advocating for themselves, and not to become complacent or quelled into acceptance of less than they deserve,” he said. “They should be open and honest with their providers, so that they can receive the highest quality of care, because a doctor can’t help you when you give them half the truth. Assume good intentions from your providers, and if you’re met with anything less, then use your resources. The patient advocate, LGBT coordinator and safe zone allies are excellent support systems.”

Fanning added she’s found the care for non-LGBT Veterans is just as good as the care for LGBT Veterans. Liebhart, too, encourages non-LGBT Veterans to treat others with respect and be open.

“Be respectful,” he said. “We are all human and deserving of dignity. If you’re curious about something, ask.”

Resources for LGBT and Related Identities Veterans

There is an LGBT VCC at every facility to help Veterans get the care they need. Find a facility at https://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/VAFacilities.asp.

VA health care includes, among other services:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Substance use/alcohol treatment
  • Tobacco use treatment
  • Fertility evaluations
  • Treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections/PrEP
  • Intimate partner violence reduction and treatment of after-effects
  • Heart health
  • Cancer screening, prevention and treatment
  • Suicide prevention programs

Learn about health risks and talking to a provider about sexual orientation identity, birth sex, and self-identified gender identity in the fact sheets below.

Learn about the resources and support available for Veterans who have faced challenges related to coming out as a person with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or related identity.

Author

Adam Stump

Adam Stump is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He is a retired Air Force Veteran who served 20 years, including two deployments to Afghanistan for detention operations and special operations.

Comments

  1. Roxanne Hazelton    

    I served in the Army for 10 years, I was gay, I am a female, it was a known fact that I was gay. I luckily served at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was totally loved and respected by all my higher rank personnel,
    I did many things asked by my CO and Sgt Major!
    If they needed me to do something out of my MOS,
    I never said no! I even carried Sgt Major’s .45 while escorting a private who went AWOL. We spent months in the field, mostly in the rain. Everyone knew I was gay! I don’t agree on the issue of sex changes being done in the military, if you want a sex change you should pay for it!
    Sorry to the transgenders, I don’t care about your wanting to be a different sex, but you pay for it!!!!
    And it seems that those who feel the need for the change in their sexual orientation join to get your change. Why should the military pay for that?
    I think you are scamming our country for your selfish wants!!!!
    Sgt Roxanne Hazelton, Disabled Veteran, Seargent

  2. Melissa Segebarth    

    My dear friends,
    I am a transgender woman who is with the Lord. I am in particularly addressing those of you that are bringing in religion to spread hatred, anger and threats. especially James Boland  and Brake Freak. Where is your empathy? I see a lot of antipathy!
    I’m not exactly sure why I see so many of you turn to name-calling, bullying, and flat-out hatred. I here you call gay and transgender people abominations, sick, disgusting, and so many other vial and cruel names. You say you come from a moral high ground. You say it’s because you have the Bible behind you.

    Let me be clear here. You don’t! The Bible says, love, they neighbor as you love thyself. When Jesus came he introduced a new covenant. To live by Love and Grace. Where is your love? where is your grace?

    Where and when did your job become judge and jury? The Lord said let ye without sin cast the first stone. The Lord also calls upon each and every one of us to do some things.
    Feed the Hungry!
    Help hurting people not to hurt!
    Make lonely people feel not alone!
    Bullied people feel protected!
    Invisible people feel seen!
    Victims not victimized!
    Grieving people feel comforted!
    These are things you can accomplish and Jesus did explicitly call you to do these things. .

    Jesus states that this is His business and so it should be yours. Love is the language he commands you to speak. This is after all, how He said He would determine your love for Him.

    The possibility for doing good is right in front of you. There are so many hopeless situations that you can bring Christ into. Blessings you can provide, people you can care for, paths you can beautifully alter, healing you can accomplish, and prayers you can answer. The real question is, are you going to follow Jesus’ examples or are you bent on costing lives?
    Jesus is calling, people are waiting.
    My dear friends, for the love of Jesus and in His name….
    Do something worthy of His Love!!!
    With Love, grace and peace,
    Melissa

  3. James Boland    

    Ask the Lord for forgiveness he will forgive you. In the beginning God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Seek your answers for life in the Bible, not the comic Book

    1. Samantha Glotz    

      I do not recall anywhere that Jesus of Nazareth condemned anyone for their gender or sexuality. Not even Paul who was gay.,

    2. Amaya Deakins    

      I guess you don’t really understand anything about anything let alone the Bible. Eve was made from a rib from Adam. Now what does that make her?? ugghh It also may be a shock to you but not every veteran is a Christian. Yikes!! That is why they do non denominational services in Active Duty.

  4. Allison Robinson    

    This is all fine and dandy and you’ve mentioned these two individuals. But what about the severe inconsistencies of each VA. This can widely be generalized to all Veterans but since the topic is LGBT let’s keep it there. I am a transgender female US Army veteran and I use the VA for services. I have moved three times in the last 3 years and each VA healthcare system is different. They deal with patients differently. They prescribed HRT methods from the 1970s because it’s safe and some VAs won’t even prescribe it or allow a transgender patient to get prosthetics because of their beliefs. Regardless of directives. I’ve gotten in to some knock down heated discussions with VA doctors and I came backed up with medical data doing their homework and only then they realize I’m right and we can move forward. I shouldn’t have to do that. My doctors should be on my side. But they all March to their own tune because they aren’t held accountable. I got Awesome care in Dallas VA and good service in Phoenix after a heated discussion and now in Tampa my service is lacking in every category! It’s nice you touch on the good stuff but I bet there are a lot of LGBT veterans reading that and saying why am I not getting this same service. Maybe you can write about that?

    1. Michael Jerome Hennessey    

      I do not begin to understand what you have gone through in your life. It does not matter my opinion one way or the other.
      All Veterans deserve respect and care they have earned by serving our country. It is not a right but a gift from the American people saying, job well done, we thank you.
      Doctors are just people with their own baggage and must be taught to open up to your issues if they choose to serve you.
      I am a 100% disabled Hetrosexual veteran. I have had to do a lot of medical research and counseling doctors on my personal medical problems. Most, with some prompting, will open up to ideas beyond a textbook—some you have to fire and move on, which is your right. No difference in the outside world, except you, can research a doctor a little before seeing.
      My favorite was a Specialist, who asked for guidance on a specific medical issue ( a French word), and I pronounced the English way. He rolled his eyes and said, if you can not pronounce it right, then how do you expect us to help. My happiest was a doctor who told me I was a liar, and the odds were infinity that I could have both conditions after sending me out to a reputable place for testing. He apologized but chose not to be my doctor because he could be of no benefit at that time.

      Keep trying, and do not give up. I have been in the system for 30 years and see improvements about every 5 years.

  5. David Z    

    But after 23 years of active service, I can’t get the VA to look at my injured knee

  6. Fred    

    The times they are a-chang’n… thank God.
    I served in the Marine Corps from ’77 to ’80 and attained the rank of sgt in two and one half years. I was twice Marine of the quarter and four of my five promotions were meritoriously acquired. All was well until my CO discovered I was “Housing a known homosexual”. Instantly, I was treated as a pariah and told to kick him out. Unbeknownst to me, a beautiful woman friend of mine showed up while I was out of the office and paraded around the first sgt and the captain asking where her fiance’ sgt Freddy was. I later returned to the office and suddenly, all was well again. I ad lib’d my way through the curious questions and was counceled by the capatain who said, “Sgt C, do you realize the repercussions of leading on that beautiful woman?” I assured him that I did and he was satisfied.

    I decided then and there that there was no place for a gay man in the Marine Corps, no matter how motivated I was.

  7. Candice West    

    Thank you to Navy Veteran Marilu Fanning and Army Veteran Dylan Liebhart for your service to our country. Thank you to all of our Veterans. Please remember that here at the VA, we serve ALL who served, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, etc.

  8. Jeanne McLaughlin    

    It saddens me to see words like “freaks” being used, or the claims of superior morality by some.

    No. None of us are perfect, and all of us have some flaws. Beyond that, who the heck are any of these self-righteous folk to decide what is morale and who is a freak?

    Why are they so threatened by people who are different? *That* is freaky and immoral to me.

    Bottom line: Honor Our Veterans – ALL of them!

  9. Stephanie ROUTT    

    You know being a transgender female I knew the VA was not a place to get help there, so I did it on my nickel and time. Being a disabled vet I use the VA for my part D on Medicare for my prescription filled by Medicare doctors. I feel for my fellow vets who can’t get care who are not part of the LBGT world, so I don’t clog the VA with my health care. I served with honor, and my EO said” if it’s not part of your seabag it’s not our problem”, so my marriage and children while serving I did outside the service. So you haters, homoaphops get your head out of your butt and respect all, you reap what you sow.

  10. Em    

    Thank you for sharing your stories and these resources! I’m sorry so many comments here are proving why it is still a brave step to come out and just exist as a queer / trans person in this world. But every story like this makes it a little easier and less lonely for other lgbtq+ vets and service members. I hope care providers are seeing this too and understanding a little more how why understanding lgbtq+ experiences is so vital!

  11. Erik Stone    

    Thank you for writing this. I want all veterans to get the help that they need after bravely serving our country

  12. KR McEneely    

    Heartening to hear stories of LGBTQ+ veterans receiving the care they need from providers who recognize the dignity they deserve.

  13. Kayla West    

    To the folks who aren’t getting the care they deserve – I’m sorry, and I hope things turn around for you. If you served, you deserve everything you need.
    Dylan and Marilu, thank you for your service and for sharing your stories! Happy Pride Month!
    Folks, all veterans deserve good care, end of sentence. For those who cite their religious traditions as justification for their hatred, I’ll pray for your hearts to open and see that God loves everyone.
    We’re all in this together.

  14. MSGLeo    

    Why is the VA wasting all this money on people who should not be in the military? The military’s purpose is to win wars, not fashion shows.

    1. Amaya Deakins    

      I’m not even going to dignify this rude, asinine comment.

  15. Mike Dinger    

    You are wrong Dylan! Stop thinking we shouldn’t be shocked when you open your shirt, or whatever. Of course wer’re going to look at you oddly, you don’t look like what society knows as normal. You want society to accept what we perceive as unnatural. So stop wanting society to accept your gender confusion!

  16. Kaye Reese    

    I’m stunned. The VA is not even equipped to handle women veterans. They are still way behind the times. Today, there is still a stigma with women veterans. The VA needs to set priorities. Vietnam Vets, Service connected, Military Sexual Trans, many Vets need health care assistance. The VA does not cover Pre-existing conditions. So I’m not understanding how the Transgender community gets the gold star care, when veterans are fighting tooth and nail for Service Connected Disabilities. I’m one of those. Been fighting for some time.
    Priorities. We’re talking about Wounded Warriors. Heros. That’s just how I feel.

  17. Thomas DeLise    

    That flag serves no purpose at a VA hospital.
    I did not serve under it, for it nor shall I respect it .
    It is total and complete garbage and has no place on VA hallow ground.
    Totally and completely disgusting.
    If this is the posture for known fecal freaks then there should be a non-issue of flying every other disgusting flag like a nazi flag, or a communist flag.
    Tbe BS that they served while it was banned is garbage, they lied under oath and deserve not one bit of respect

    To hell with all of them and the offensive behavior baggage they carry….

  18. Brake Freak    

    You gay and lesbian freaks deserve nothing from the US government. Wait until the real men of China and Russia come against us and you wimps try to defend our nation. Ya, good luck with that. Quit your disgusting lifestyle and blatant sin and quit dragging our society into the gutter.

  19. Brake Freak    

    The US Government and VA should not be paying anything to take care of homosexuals or transgender people. This nation will not survive this sexual mess and blatant sin. No nation can. It’s time to wake up to the truth and time to stop pandering to these sexual deviants. China and Russia will come after us with real men and the time for this sexual crap will be over in a single moment.

    1. Timothy Allen Sr    

      You need to shut up. You yourself are the reason why we have wars (your hate) is embedded in your brain from either your upbringing, religion, conditional love or for what ever reason Brake. You are an Evil spirited person who shoul be ashamed not those that are trying there best to tell the truth and be accepted in society. But no if they do then there punished and hated just like the terrorist do in their countrys to their own people God forgives all who accept (Him) and we cant see him but what’s believed out of the bible and scriptures of past so we today dont really know what we should believe in. Love is not prejudice,hate, scorn, ill manners, jealousy etc. Its forgiving in the ( truth ) of all things, gentle, kind,caring, affectionate, giving, sharing etc. So you have your religon and its tells you to hate unless your an atheist then your dammed yourself for denying God. Take a step bac and look at yourself and don’t be so selfish with your pride, ribbons, and honorable service you made good decisions and I thank you myself for your service to keep this country free and loving and caring under God. Don’t be to quick to judge other people who dont have control over how they were born, live, choose to feel right inside their heart what they are instead of them being miserable living a lie. God is forgiving of all sins except Blasphemers. Thanks for your service now try to serve others without prejudice and hate. Have a nice day. 🙂

    2. Amaya Deakins    

      You have to be a troll. Seriously real men?? in China and Russia? Haha

  20. Daphne Diversidee Dove    

    I am a retired, veteran with honerable service and discharge with decorations. I am also service connected disabled. My pension amount keeps me from receiving state and federal assistance that would include medical coverage that is needed to transition. Due to my disability and rating I am also unable to hold full time employment which would also provide healthcare allowing for transition. My only healthcare option is through the VA healthcare system. Even recently the VA started authorizing electrolysis hair removal. It is an insult to start with that the VA will do this but not the surgeries that hair removal is needed for. So I said wow. It was a start. NOT. There are no electrologist in the VA healthcare system. The only option is through Veterans Choice (Community Care / Tri-west). Sounded great to me. However, community care does not have an agent for electrolysis or transgender health. The only area of medicine they can refer me to is Dermatology. There are no Dermatologists that do electrolysis. So I started calling all of the Businesses in my area (Los Angeles) that do provide electrolysis and found that none are set up to bill through Tri-West / Community Care. I have been successful in getting 4 of these providers to to start the application process that takes 6-8 months. That’s a start again and sounds hopeful. However when I see articles like the one above I am angered and feel left behind. The VA still is not doing anything really. Other articles I read indicate that the VA is tasked with reducing the expenditures of community care this year rather than expanding. So I don’t see any relief in sight and I am not getting any younger. I read about transgender women in prison who fight the system to get their transition needs met as a human need while I served my country for over 20 year and am still unable to get the treatment that every american deserves and most get. What is wrong with this picture????

  21. Robert Moore    

    Veterans including myself that have been in the system for ten, twenty, thirty years can’t get a claim through the system in a reasonable amount of time but the VA is giving resources the individuals that entered the military with a preexisting issue. Why??
    I sustained injuries while on active duty and I have to write a book, get supporting documents from family, friends and whomever. Then I go through examinations and C&P just to have my valid claim denied. The VA acts as if they are giving me something, I have earned it every little bit of it and can’t get it.

    1. Dylan Liebhart    

      I have also gone thought the VA system dealing with claims, have gone though C&P and all the other hoops that we sometimes must jump. It’s not about diverting resource it’s about including every veteran. Not about the cis gendered ones. Every veteran has needs that are different from another. Getting on you “this is fair soap box” doesn’t fix anything you might be going though. This is to show the VA includes all veterans, and support ALL veterans. I am sorry you feel that way.

      1. Melanie Clark    

        “I’m sorry you feel that way?” People who are confused about their gender are not good for readiness. Maintaining a fantasy takes constant medical care not available on deployment. If the transgender veteran was injured during his/her time of service, then absolutely take care of him/her for the service connected disability! As Robert said, it is a preexisting condition. The VA doesn’t cover that for, as you say, cis gendered people. whatever that means. Why are LGBTQ et cetera covered?

        1. Daphne Diversidee Dove    

          I am a transgender veteran. Sorry to have to point this out to you but most veterans who are transgender already did their service. Lots suffered emotional distress in service where they were unable to serve openly as LGBT even as recently as the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell. So honestly they have a case to be treated for any trauma that may have been exacerbated due to their orientation or gender identity at the time of service regardless of whether they came out. For instance I was sexually assaulted. Knowing now what I didn’t then (that I was female) made clearer the trauma. Also consider the many service members who were unsure of their orientation and or gender during the time of service. If they start to be aware during service due to hazing events like the Navy Beauty contests (sailors in drag) or crossing the line ceremonies doesn’t some of their hardships and gender dysphoria become service connected. Think about it. There are a higher number of servicemembers and veterans in the transgender community and even between the services I think I would be found accurate in saying that there more from the Navy. Just my experience. But in any case we adapt and overcome and are stronger. We are the people you want to serve with. I hope you will also find that true.

          Daphne
          USN/CALGAURD Retired

    2. George Smith    

      Stop it! You are encouraging the dissolution of morals in our country by recognizing a Very small minority. Yet another group amongst the plethora of other groups. I suppose they will seek some sort of reparations like other tribal members. What a shame…

  22. Kimrey Kotchick    

    Thank you for article on Trans persons I am a Transman FTM( Female to Male) . I agree the VA medical system have treated me for more than 2 decades have been excellent. I have not had any issues.
    Thank you,
    Reno Nv

    1. BlueFluke    

      Hi. I had excellent V.A. care in the San Francisco Bay area with the Palo Alto Health Care System, so when I moved to Southern California, I expected the same.

      However, I was stunned by the homophobia I encountered here in Southern California. As soon as I said the word lesbian, suddenly, nobody was available.

      I’ve received numerous phone calls over several months from the V.A. saying they would like to speak with me about setting up a treatment plan. Same thing every month or so. All they need to do is make an appointment for me to see a therapist.

      Seems to me that the treatment plan should be constructed between me and the therapist, not someone who sets up the appointment. I’m done with the V.A. here.

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