The transgender, or trans, community has been enjoying a surge in visibility and acceptance over the past few years. And though it may seem counter-intuitive, a significant number of trans people currently serve in the military. In fact, the Department of Defense is the biggest trans employer in the United States, 20 percent of the transgender population are veterans. An estimated 150,000 have served in the Armed Forces or are currently on active duty. What may also be surprising to some is the DoD’s proactive approach to this issue. They have shifted from an outright ban on transgender individuals serving in the Armed Forces, to a plan to lift the ban completely as early as May 2016. The VA has also made positive strides, opening a handful of trans-specific VA clinics, such as the ones in Cleveland and Tucson.
For over 40 years, Swords to Plowshares has been committed to meeting the needs of all veterans and we have long served transgender clients. But we are now looking into the needs of this long marginalized population. Last October we hosted a focus group for trans identified veterans in San Francisco. Based on this focus group, preliminary key needs of this community include:
- Access to gender confirmation surgeries:
This was a sticking point for many of the veterans in the focus group. The VA currently is prohibited from providing such surgeries solely for gender confirmation. Medicare and Medi-Cal now provide for gender confirmation surgery and we urge the VHA to follow suit in the near term.
- Access to providers who are knowledgeable about and sensitive trans culture and issues:
Focus group participants reported a lack of knowledge, or, occasionally, hostility, from their providers. The VA has already started to address this, we were happy to attend and present at a Veterans Health Administration Transgender Health Symposium in San Francisco last month, and we look forward to working with the VA to continue to provide for better care.
- Assistance and support to navigate the system:
Our focus group participants told many stories of inconsistent implementation of treatment standards, and of being unsure of what they were entitled to, and what they could demand or expect from their providers. As one participant put it, “There’s nobody to really direct you to tell you this, this, and this is happening to you,” and another said, we should have “A peer advocate that could help the trans people that don’t know where to go and what to do.” In response to this need, the VA is considering creating trans veteran peer advocate positions, similar to the ones that already exist for women veterans.
The next stage of our research is a California-wide survey, open to all trans-identified people with military history. The survey focuses on healthcare needs, and we plan to share the results with our colleagues in the VA and in veteran services to improve care.
You can access the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/transvetsurvey. Please feel free to forward it.
Respondents will be entered to win a $100 gift card as an incentive for their participation.
Getting a robust and diverse group of people to respond to the survey will help us get the best data possible and continue to provide cutting edge services to the veterans who need them the most.
Lauren Taylor is a Policy Analyst at the Institute for Veteran Policy. For more information on the Trans Veterans Needs Assessment, you can contact her at [email protected].