Washington state stands up for transgender veterans' denied surgeries

By: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 News

Updated:

Nine states are standing up against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in effort to change a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rule that denies surgical services to transgender veterans.

And Washington state is leading the charge.

"Access to medically necessary healthcare should be available to all of those who sacrifice for our country," said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "Veterans deserve to get the care they need, no matter their gender identity."

Marine Corps veteran Dee Fulcher, U.S. Army veteran Giuliano Silva and other transgender veterans asked the VA last year to change the 1999 rule, that states sex reassignment surgery cannot be funded by its department.  

Fulcher and Silva took to civil rights attorneys with Lambda Legal, an organization that petitioned the VA after both were denied coverage for surgeries.  

Silva, 26, wrote in a blog post he was denied coverage for a doctor-recommended mastectomy for back pain, and it lead to early retirement from service.  

“My doctor told me that I needed to have surgery because of my severe back pain, but simply because I am transgender, a procedure that is available to thousands of other veterans will not be covered by the VA for me,” Gia wrote. “I made a commitment to the Army and I kept it until I retired, but it is heartbreaking for me that this policy on transition-related surgery keeps the VA from upholding its duty to me.”

The VA withdrew consideration for a rule change in November – claiming that it was not financially feasible – and so Fulcher, Silva and other petitioners filed a lawsuit in January.


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Ferguson’s office filed an amicus brief in their lawsuit on Wednesday. His team argues that more than 150,000 transgender veterans, active service members, and reserves serving the county are lacking the necessary medical care they need. And that the negative health effects could burden the states, according to the legal team’s argument.

Additionally, Ferguson and eight other attorneys general – from California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia – believes that the VA’s rule unlawfully perpetuates civil rights violations in the U.S. healthcare system.

“I served my country with pride and I should be treated just like my fellow veterans who have access to the treatment they need," said 54-year-old Fulcher, who served for 11 years.

The VA covers some transition-related care and department leaders do not dispute the medical necessity of surgery.

“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area has improved significantly and is now widely accepted as medically necessary treatment,” the VA said in statement last year. "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."

Meanwhile, LGTBQ advocates continue to question the VA on whether surgeries will be covered in the coming years.


 

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