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Transgender veterans will not be covered for gender confirmation surgeries, VA says

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The VA has been banned from performing the procedure since 1999

New York City Celebrates Veterans Day With Annual Parade Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has reneged on its proposal to provide gender confirmation surgeries for transgender veterans. The VA is currently prohibited from conducting the procedure, but a proposed rule change was denied because of lack of funding, according to a VA spokesperson.

This is devastating news for the estimated 134,000 veterans who are transgender. Transgender people can feel significant emotional distress when the gender they identify with doesn’t match the gender on their birth certificates. That distress is called gender dysphoria, which can cause anxiety, depression, and even lead to suicide. Treatments include “counseling, cross-sex hormones, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender,” according to the latest edition of the handbook for psychiatric diseases, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.

The VA currently covers hormone therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluations, and long-term post-surgery care. But it denies gender-altering surgeries because of a 1999 ban prohibiting the VA from providing the procedures. Transgender veterans have been fighting back against the ban, and Dee Fulcher and Guliano Silva petitioned the VA to lift it last spring. “The Department’s exclusion for sex reassignment surgery was not supported by medical evidence when it was implemented in 1999, and it is even more indefensible today,” the two transgender veterans wrote in the petition.

Soon after, the VA proposed a ruling to lift the ban. But this week the VA withdrew the proposal from the Fall 2016 Unified Agenda, a document containing the policy changes under consideration for the coming year, a VA spokesperson wrote in a statement emailed to The Verge. The proposed rule change was scrapped by the government’s Office of Management and Budget because it didn’t include a plan for how to fund the expanded medical benefits, Military.com reported.

“VA has been and will continue to explore a regulatory change that would allow VA to perform gender alteration surgery and a change in the medical benefits package, when appropriated funding is available,” the VA spokesperson said. Given that President-elect Donald Trump has called the “political correctness” of the military “ridiculous” and supports North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” transgender veterans may be waiting a devastatingly long time to receive medically necessary care.