VA Backtracks on Funding Transgender Surgeries, But Not Because of the Election

Somebody neglected to account for the expenses.


Randy Pench/ZUMA Press/Newscom

It seems that when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decided that it would change the rules and fund sex-change surgeries for transgender troops, it failed to account for something just a little bit important: paying for it.

So now, apparently the VA is having to backtrack on a proposed rule change. Over the past year, the military began instituting a plan to allow transgender troops to serve openly and to even transition while in service. For veterans, though, there is a blip in the system. While the VA covers different types of treatment that help transgender veterans, VA policy specifically excludes sex-change surgeries. This doesn't mean vets can't get sex-change or gender-reassignment surgeries. It means the government is not going to pay for it. It's treated as an elective surgery.

There's been a push to change this designation, and while some may find the idea controversial (and the idea of being transgender suspect), there is support among medical professionals that sex reassignment surgery is potentially an effective, valid form of treatment. But obviously not everybody agrees, and so funding for treatment for transgender concerns is politicized. I wrote more about the complex issues involved here (Summary: If we as Americans are going to fund medical treatment for veterans, it's hard to justify excluding this treatment just because people outside the medical profession don't think it's legitimate).

The VA announced this week that it's going to have to delay implementing a plan to cover these surgeries until "when appropriated funding is available." I had already seen a couple of "Oh, no, it's starting!" tweets from transgender folks thinking this was some sort of backtracking that's happening because of Donald Trump's election. That doesn't appear to be the case. The VA will still be covering all other forms of treatment related to transgender issues, but needs regulatory changes and appropriations to formally add surgery.

Now, of course, whether this will happen in a Trump administration is anybody's guess. The general thought is that Trump's conservative administration may end up being more hostile to these issues than Trump himself might be, given Mike Pence as vice president and whoever else from the Republican Party ends up in the administration.

I'm deliberately avoiding trying to speculate too much what might happen here because of the lack of clarity from Trump on LGBT issues. Trump is clearly not anti-gay and not anti-transgender, but his catering to populism makes it difficult to ascertain whose attitudes toward transgender accommodation are going to win out in his administration.