The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week opened its first clinic specializing in the treatment of transgender veterans.
The clinic, headed by Dr. Megan McNamara, is located at at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. It will take 20 transgender patients on one Thursday a month, ranging in age from 21 to 75. The clinic will provide primary care, hormone therapy, and mental health services.
Many barriers stand in the way of health care for LGBTQ patients, including lack of access. Medical students receive, on average, fewer than five hours of LGBTQ health training, according to the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health. This program will help treat a large and underserved population.
Studies have shown that transgender people are twice as likely to serve in the military compared with the general population.
“I feel there are a lot of transgender patients in the veteran population who haven’t been able to find the care they need,” McNamara told Cleveland’s newspaper the Plain Dealer. “I really want to be able to provide comprehensive, one-stop care for those patients in a welcoming environment … a place where they’re comfortable and accepted.”
An estimated 15,500 transgender men and women serve in the military, and there are about 134,300 transgender veterans, according to the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank that conducts research on gender identity law and policy. VA officials have tried to address the specific health needs of this population.
“Oftentimes if I’d go in the private sector, I’d run into problems with doctors who are not informed how to treat [transgender patients], or knowledgeable of transgender issues,” Danielle Keller, a 66-year-old Air Force veteran, told the Plain Dealer. “So you’d have to search for somebody who is knowledgeable. It’s not always successful and sometimes it’s painful to do such a thing because the rejection is not fun to deal with. Knowing that we can come to a place that is familiar with our issues helps a lot.”
The VA released a health directive in 2013 that outlines how best to treat transgender and intersex veterans. But Evan Young, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association, told Al Jazeera that discrimination still exists in the military community.
“It’s slowly starting to get to where you don’t think of a drag king or queen, you think of someone who is transgender,” Young said. “We’re just regular, everyday people, you know?”
Hillary Clinton released her platform this week on veterans’ services and health care, which addresses expanding reproductive and LGBTQ health services.