The unrecognizable soldier sits alone on the couch and holds his dog tags from when he served in the armed forces.
The Transgender American Veterans Association filed a lawsuit Thursday against the government seeking for it to allow veterans’ insurance to cover gender-affirming surgery for veterans.
“Enough is enough,” Rebekka Eshler, president of TAVA, told NBC News on Wednesday. “How can I stand here and keep saying, ‘Just be patient,’ and not do anything when these veterans are reaching out because they’re at death’s door? They can’t handle it anymore. This is about building this trust back with the VA. They keep using us for political gain, but not keeping their word and keeping their promise.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, covers hormone therapy, voice training, fertility preservation and hair removal as part of veterans’ health benefits. Gender-affirming surgery is not covered, though it has been widely endorsed by American health groups as medically-necessary care for trans patients who need it.
In 2016, TAVA filed a petition to the VA to cover gender-affirming surgery for trans veterans, but it said the VA has not responded. In 2021, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said the VA was moving to include gender-affirming surgery in veterans’ benefits, but there has been no further progress.
TAVA’s lawsuit demands that the VA respond to the petition in a reasonable time. The lawsuit alleges that a lack of gender-affirming surgery VA’s “puts transgender veterans at increased risk of physical harm, psychological distress, and suicide,” according to NBC News.
TAVA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Terrence Hayes, VA’s press secretary, told HuffPost that the VA doesn’t comment on potential and pending litigation.
Eshler told NBC News that when transgender veterans can’t receive the care they need, they can struggle with gender dysphoria and sometimes even suicidal ideation.
Natalie Kastner, a 39-year-old disabled veteran from Texas, said that after the VA denied her request for gender-affirming surgery in 2022, she took a knife and attempted self-castration.
“I did not go into that bathroom looking to kill myself,” she told The Associated Press. “I went into that bathroom looking to fix myself. I can only imagine how many others have done the same and have not been so lucky and have simply been listed as a suicide.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at dontcallthepolice.com. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.