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Group drops lawsuit against VA over gender-confirmation surgery

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A group representing transgender veterans has dropped a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after getting a letter from Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

The Transgender American Veterans Association lawsuit, filed in January, sought an order that the Department of Veterans Affairs act on the group’s 2016 rule-making petition for gender-confirmation surgery. The department denied the petition and said that made the TAVA suit moot because it had granted the relief the group sought.

In its lawsuit, the Transgender American Veterans Association said the department hadn’t lived up to the promises it made to make gender-confirmation surgery available to veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides medically necessary gender-affirming care to transgender veterans, but not gender-affirming surgical interventions due to an exclusion in the department’s medical benefits package.

McDonough announced more than two years ago that VA would provide gender confirmation surgery. At the time, McDonough said it would take time to complete.

He said last week it would take more time.

“I’ve said before that transgender Vets deserve world class healthcare and benefits, and gender affirming care should be available to any Vet who needs it,” he said during a news conference. “VA remains committed to providing care to transgender Vets, but we’re not ready at this point to initiate rulemaking addressing the specific regulatory changes proposed in the petition.”

McDonough said the department is working on it, but more work remains.

“VA has moved methodically, and I have talked about this for months now, in its consideration of this important potential change in coverage, because it must be implemented in a manner that’s been thoroughly considered and ensures that the services made available to Vets meet VA’s rigorous standards for consistent, high quality healthcare nationwide,” he said.

McDonough said he had asked VA officials to collect information and come up with estimates of the number of veterans who will become eligible for services under the PACT Act in 2022. VA calls the PACT Act “perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history.”

McDonough said he asked a team led by Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal to look into the issues.

“Among the things we’re asking Dr. Elnahal and his team to get me regulatory impact analysis on are questions about how many trans Veterans we anticipate enrolling .. and then what kind of services those trans Veterans will need so that we’re ready for that,” McDonough said.

In the meantime, he promised VA would take care of all veterans.

“While we’re making further analysis – considering this for further analysis, VA will continue to provide all other types of gender affirming care to Veterans. That includes medical care, support groups, mental health services, and more. And to all LGBTQ plus Veterans, and to all Veterans, I just want to be 100% clear that VA is 100% committed to providing you world class care in a safe, welcoming, and discrimination free environment,” he said. “Every Veteran and every VA employee should feel respected and treated with dignity at VA. I’ll say this again. Every Veteran and every VA employee should feel respected and treated with dignity at VA. President Biden charged me on day one that our job is to fight like hell for all Veterans. Not some–all Veterans. That’s the policy and the standard to which I hold myself accountable, and I simply will not settle for less.”

McDonough said Elnahal had been given “several months” for that research.

Transgender American Veterans Association did not respond to a request for comment.