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VA observes Transgender Day of Visibility

Transgender Day of Visibility is observed March 31. This observance honors the transgender community, their contributions to society and acknowledges the hardships they may face. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), members of the LGBTQ+ community are nearly four times as likely to experience sexual violence as non-LGBTQ+ people. Research shows that this community tends to thrive when they are affirmed and supported from youth through adulthood.

Historically, there was little understanding of how health care intersects with gender identity or emphasis on gender-affirming health care. As a result, many transgender people never report sexual violence or harassment they experience because they fear there will not be an appropriate response. The hesitance comes from the experience of many who are marginalized simply for being their authentic selves.

Lack of proper, affirming care increases their vulnerability and decreases trust between the transgender community and health care systems. VA aims to change how transgender and gender diverse Veterans feel about accessing care. It is a priority that all who use VA facilities feel safe, valued and welcome.

Karen Muth’s journey through cancer treatment

Karen Muth, an Army Veteran, transgender woman and current VA patient, has had years of experience having her health care needs met at VA. Muth served in the Army for the mandatory two years after being drafted in 1967. In 2004, Muth was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She turned to Durham VA for treatment. For almost 20 years, she has dealt with relapses of her persistent cancer. She was treated with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.

In 2017, Muth (pictured above) was accepted into a clinical trial at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The trial was successful and Muth has been in remission for more than six years. When asked about her experiences with care at VA, Muth said, “I’ve had nothing but positive interactions at VA. The doctors at Durham VA were all very kind and understanding.”

Treatment for transgender patients at VA

Muth discovered her gender dysphoria around eight years ago. After completing the clinical trial, she asked her VA clinician about gender transitioning information. VA offered different avenues for treatment to address her needs and referred her to a psychologist who provided mental health care during the transition.

“Once VA understood I was transgender, they were helpful in providing pamphlets of information and guided me toward the areas of VA that help transgender individuals,” she said.

Muth’s oncologist at Durham VA supported her by using the correct name and pronouns. She was advised of any potential complications with future gender affirming treatments due to her cancer treatment, such as blood clots from estrogen supplements. Muth was reassured that receiving breast augmentation or other gender affirming surgeries (not provided by VA) would not affect her cancer treatments.

Resources available to LGBTQ+ Veterans

Even though Muth didn’t have a negative experience with VA health care, she understands that other transgender and gender diverse Veterans may still have reservations.

“Transgender Veterans would obviously be cautious. I was. But VA has been very responsive and respectful when assisting me. I would recommend they at least look into it,” she added.

Individuals interested in learning more about available health care resources for LGBTQ+ Veterans and family members can reach out to Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA) LGBTQ+ Health Program to connect with an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator (VCC). VCC’s are available at every VA facility for easy access.

VA continues to emphasize the importance of serving all Veterans, including transgender and gender diverse Veterans. Every Veteran should be treated with respect and should have access to high-quality personalized health care within a safe, supportive, clinical environment. At VA, Veterans must be addressed based upon their self-identified gender identity.

VA is committed to providing clinically appropriate, comprehensive, Veteran-centered care to eligible transgender Veterans, including hormonal therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation and medically necessary post-operative and long-term care following gender confirming/affirming surgery.

To show your support for a safer, more inclusive VA, take the White Ribbon VA pledge and take a stand against sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence. Muth plans to take the pledge and support a safer VA so all Veterans within the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable receiving the health care they deserve.

Learn more about how VA is creating a more welcoming environment free of sexual harassment and sexual assault for all who rely on our services.

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