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The VA Must Do Right by Trans Veterans

The VA Must Do Right by Trans Veterans

The VA Must Do Right by Trans Veterans

In a shocking move, the VA recently declared it would not cover gender-confirmation surgery. Congressman Mike Quigley is not pleased.

November 14 marked Congress's first day back in session following an extended recess period and the end of a divisive campaign season, culminating in an election night that many of my constituents and colleagues -- myself included -- found surprising.

November 14 also marked the first day of Transgender Awareness Week, a week designed to raise the visibility of issues affecting the transgender community. This week should have been an opportunity to rally around Americans who are undoubtedly feeling more afraid and anxious about their future than ever before.

But as reports of incidents motivated by hate and bigotry grow, coupled with the knowledge that our president-elect has the support of anti-LGBTQ groups across the country, transgender Americans were dealt another blow this week with the Department of Veterans Affairs' announcement that it is withdrawing a plan to lift the ban on surgical care for transgender veterans.

Just three days after we paid tribute to our nation's heroes on Veterans Day, the VA is telling transgender vets that they will have to put the goal of living an authentic life on hold.

Currently, the VA covers hormone therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation, and long-term care after a sex-reassignment surgery for qualified veterans, but gender-reassignment surgery itself is notably missing from that list.

In September, I was proud to lead a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald requesting the assurance our courageous veterans have dutifully earned through their service and sacrifice. Transgender veterans deserve equal access to the medical care needed to lead happy, healthy lives. Outdated and discriminatory restrictions should not interfere with our service members' receipt of fair treatment and quality care, and I am extremely disappointed with the VA's announcement.

Not only is the elimination of this ban critical for those with gender dysphoria, but it also makes economic sense. Lifting this ban has the potential to provide long-term savings to the government as a result of preventing future -- and significantly more expensive -- medical and mental health care costs.

As we try to heal the hurt surrounding this election, we must promise our transgender friends that they will continue to have our support. Unfortunately, this decision sends a very different message. The Obama administration has done more to advance LGBT rights than any other presidential administration in history. Before leaving office, I call on President Obama to move forward as planned to lift this discriminatory ban, as he has across other government agencies.

As vice-chair of the Equality Caucus and a founding member of the Transgender Equality Task Force, I know we will not relent in our fight to preserve equal rights and fair treatment for all Americans -- regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Let us not hold our breath to see if the distressing campaign promises of President-elect Trump come true. Let us be proactive in our attempts to show our support -- both in words and action -- for those who need it most. Let us continue our efforts to spur further progress instead of turning back the hands of time. And lastly, let us hold the next administration accountable on their democratic obligation to preserve the values of equality, opportunity, and justice for all, on which our great nation was built.

MIKE QUIGLEY represents Illinois's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House.

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