The VA Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up the Tab for Transgender Operations
Policy + Politics

The VA Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up the Tab for Transgender Operations

© Mike Segar / Reuters

The Veterans Affairs Department recently unveiled a potentially controversial regulation that would eventually see taxpayer-funded transgender surgeries.

The agency’s proposed rule, first reported by Time, would remove a decades-old ban on such procedures and comes at a time when the issue of transgender rights has become national cultural flashpoint.

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The Obama administration issued federal rules last month mandating public schools allow transgender students to use whatever restroom they want. Eleven states, led by North Carolina, are suing the White House over the directive, signaling a contentious legal battle as the country is split down the middle on the issue, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

In its notice, the VA states that surgical procedures were not deemed to be “medically necessary” in the past and there were questions over their safety and effectiveness.

“However, increased understanding of gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” the notice says.

“Additionally, recent medical research shows that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that has had severe medical consequences for certain patients if transition-related surgeries and procedures are not provided,” it adds.

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If the department opts to push ahead with the new regulation it would bring it into line with Medicare, which made the decision to cover transgender operations in 2014. There are as many as 15,000 transgender people serving in the armed forces today, according to an estimate by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The Center also figures there are around 134,000 transgender veterans, but given the fact that there are millions of vets across the country, it’s safe to bet that figure is higher.

Any steps by the VA could run into stiff opposition in Congress.

Earlier this year the Defense Department offered adding non-surgical hormone therapy for gender dysphoria to the military’s insurance network, known as Tricare, and Pentagon chief Ash Carter could issue a directive before the end of 2016 that would allow transgender individuals to serve openly.

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By turns, the moves brought swift condemnation from Republicans who charged that Obama was using the military to conduct social experiments.

Similar charges could be leveled against the VA, even though the proposal does not provide a timeline for when coverage might begin, meaning it could be several years before the policy is put into place.

Lawmakers could also not be thrilled with the idea of covering expensive male-to-female and female-to-male transition operations, which can total well over $100,000 according to some estimates. With the VA’s poor history of providing healthcare, potentially adding tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer expenses is a longshot.