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A new study by a California research center finds that transgender veterans — people who changed their sex after getting out of the military — believe they are facing discrimination and disrespect at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
Transgender people also complained they had a difficult time while in the military, with repeated inquiries about their sexual orientation. Such questions were more likely to be faced by women planning to become men than for men planning to become women, according to the study by the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Jeanne Scheper of the Palm Center said the survey appears to "corroborate recent Pentagon data that show women are disproportionately affected by the ban on openly gay service" and the stigma facing masculine-appearing women and feminine-appearing men.
The study, based on surveys of 867 transgender veterans, included 18 who said they began their gender transition while still in uniform.
Navy veteran Monica Helms, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association, said most of those who began a gender change while in the military were near the end of their service obligations and worked in isolated assignments so they did not call attention to themselves.
Only about 30 percent of those surveyed used VA hospitals, most of them men who became women, were 46 or older and had annual incomes of $30,000 or less.
VA does not cover sex changes, and usually does not cover related hormone therapy or counseling. But the survey says transgender veterans reported problems even getting care routinely provided to other veterans, such as pap smears, prostate exams, hysterectomies and mastectomies.
Another complaint was that VA medical staff often refused to use the gender-appropriate pronoun he or she for the new sexual identity of a transgender veteran and sometimes would not even look at them.
The survey quotes one transgender man as saying he was "told by a religious clerk that I should just go away because I was an insult to the brave real men who there for treatment."
Transgender veterans also complained their privacy was violated by medical staff, including one incident in which a nurse pulled a veterans' partner into the hall to ask if the partner knew that the veteran was born a man.
Helms said the study would provide ammunition for getting VA policies relaxed and to force cultural changes to reduce discrimination.
Transgender veterans are not asking for special help, just equal treatment, Helms said.
"We did our time," she said. "What happened to us after we got out doesn't have anything to do with whether we deserve care. We are aware that times are tough for veterans programs and that it is difficult to get care at some VA facilities. We would just like to be treated just as crappily as everyone else."
Among the survey respondents, 38 percent were Army veterans, 28.5 percent served in the Navy, 23.5 percent in the Air Force and 11 percent in the Marine Corps, with the rest in the National Guard, Reserves or Coast Guard.
Eighty-six percent received honorable discharges. Forty-eight percent were junior enlisted, 39 percent were noncommissioned officers or petty officers, and 13 percent were officers.
Fifty-two percent were men who transitioned to women, 28 percent were women who transferred to men, and the rest fell into other variant categories depending on the current state of their transition, or did not want to be identified with either gender.