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Honoring Every Veteran

For those who aren’t aware, this coming Sunday is Veterans Day. On the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network‘s Blog The Frontlines, they have been running a series Honor Every Veteran, where LGBT bloggers are talking about their military service. Some of the veterans who’ve written so far have included:

Former Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall

Former Army First Lieutenant Steve Boeckels

Jeff McGowan, prior US Army Major

Former Marine Sergeant Brian Fricke

I’m grateful the SLDN has given these veterans a voice on their blog.

My own military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell story is profiled in the Gay & Lesbian Times’ current issue, in Joseph Peña’s piece Transgender Veterans: Gay & Lesbain Times - Issue 1037Beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ transgender vets face different discriminations in the armed services.

Besides my personal story, the article focuses on a study by the Micheal D. Palm Center (University of California, Santa Barbara), entitled Gender Identity and the Military – Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Identified Individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Quoting the Gay & Lesbian Times’ article regarding the Palm Center study:

With very little research done on transgender members of the military, Brown and Witten, along with Aaron Belkin at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Palm Center, are anticipating issues transgender servicemembers may face.

Witten’s study is part one of a two-part study commissioned by the Palm Center, which studies sexual minorities in the military. She was asked to review and compile information on demographics and history for part one of the report. Part two will include testimonies of transgender veterans or active-duty servicemembers.

Brown has worked on voice-therapy studies and continues to work with transgender veterans. Both spoke at a forum during a World Professional Association for Transgender Health conference in Chicago in September.

Of the issues transgender veterans face, Brown and Witten said that access to medical benefits after retirement or discharge is one of the most important. There are medical issues unique to the transgender community. Often, transition requires therapy, hormone treatment and can include sexual reassignment surgery – all costly endeavors if the person does not have medical coverage. VAs, as is the case with all federal agencies, cannot provide sexual reassignment surgery, and treatment for transgender patients is limited.

[More from the article after the break]

Brown operated a clinic in Johnson City, Tenn. that worked with transgender veterans, but it was closed by federal officials who did not agree that the clinic served a purpose. Brown was cleared of any wrongdoing for serving the transgender patients. A similar clinic in New Orleans was also closed.

A VA-approved facility in Boston is fairly comprehensive in its treatment of transgender veterans, Brown said. The hospital has set standard operating procedures for how to manage veterans that are transgender, but within the VA system, it’s difficult to find allies.

Brown said VA doctors hesitate to treat transgender patients out of fear that it will affect their careers.

“Now people who do want to treat transgender vets are scared of the potential negative impact on their careers or the stigma,” he said.

Within the concept of honoring every veteran, we need to consider honoring every disabled veteran — whether they be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex — with appropriate medical care. As a transgender veteran, let me espouse that we should be treating disabled transgender veterans within the VA medical system as the transgender people we are, and not how the religious right or others believe we should be.

Honoring every veteran — it’s something to think about this coming weekend, and something to think about in the weeks, months, and perhaps years to come.

Further Reading:
* SLDN: Survival Guide [Section I. is on Transgender Individuals, page 16 of the document (page 24 of the PDF)]
* Service Member & Veteran Profiles: Sandeen, Autumn
* Documenting Courage: Veterans’ Stories


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