Guest Blogger

Survey reveals Veterans Administration discriminates against Transgender Veterans

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 22, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Monica Helms, survey, TAVA, transgender, Transgender American Veterans Association

Editors' note: Frequent guest blogger and TAVA president Monica Helms reports on recent findings of a survey of transgender veterans.

tava logo.JPGThe Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara has released the findings of a survey, conducted by Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), that shows that transgender veterans are being turned away and being mistreated in high numbers by Veterans Administration medical facilities. The survey, with 827 transgender veteran participants, was conducted from December 13, 2007 to May 1, 2008. This represents a strong sampling from what is estimated to be approximately 300,000 veterans in the US who identify as being transgender.

The most troubling figure to come out of the survey was that 10% of transgender veterans, who currently use the VA, have at one time been turned away from receiving any service or medical help. I see this figure as being very disturbing. We served our country honorably and proudly and the VA medical benefits we earned should not be denied or diminished simply because of the direction our lives took after discharge from active duty.

Other figures and interesting information came from the report:

Job Discrimination:

...nearly one third of the survey participants reported having experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace, with approximately the same amount (31%) reporting that they believed they had not been hired for a job specifically because they were transgender. A full 15% reported that they had been fired from a job for being transgender (with 40% of those people having been fired more than once). Nearly 10% reported experiencing open, blatant discrimination from an employer or prospective employer; they were explicitly told that they were being fired (or not hired) because they were transgender.

Violence:

In addition to discrimination, this group reported a high percentage of experiences with interpersonal violence. 26% reported having been the victim of physical violence, and 16% reported having been raped.

Transgender Service Members and the "Don't ask, don't tell" Policy:

A full 38% reported that when they were in the military, people suspected or directly asked if they were gay. In addition, 14% had been questioned by an officer about their sexual orientation. For younger respondents (aged 18-35), all of whom had served under DADT, this finding was even more pronounced: 61% reported that when they were in the military, people suspected or directly asked if they were gay; 20% had been questioned by an officer about their sexual orientation.


VA Medical Facility Experiences:

...there were many reports of interpersonal discrimination, via lack of respect from VA doctors (22%), non-medical staff (21%), and nurses (13%). These cases of interpersonal discrimination ranged from what many veterans describe as "typical" - refusing to change to gender-appropriate pronouns, failure to use a new name consistently - to the extreme - refusing to look at transgender patients, referring to them in dismissive ways, refusing to treat them for general medical care. One FTM respondent noted, 'I was told by a religious clerk that I should just go away because I was an insult to the brave real men who were there for treatment'. Another MTF respondent noted, "I am asked about my genitals and my plans for SRS regardless of whether or not it has relevance to my treatment."

And:

...one MTF respondent recounted the following experience: "'A nurse pulled my partner out in the hall of the VA Hospital where I was an in-patient [and said], 'You know that is really a man, don't you?'"

What the survey also brought up was how disproportionate trans men are being targeted under DADT than their trans sisters.

Such effects varied significantly by gender. Transmen were almost two times more likely to report they were suspected of being gay than transwomen (72% vs. 37%). They were three times more likely than transwomen to have been asked by an officer about their sexual orientation (33% vs. 11%).

There were several Implications and Recommendations that came out of this survey, involving all of the above areas of discussion. One thing that appeared in that section was a section from the VA's mission statement:

We are dedicated to providing high quality, comprehensive health care to veterans in an environment that fosters trust, respect, commitment, compassion and excellence. We serve as a major resource for health services, education and research that benefit our patients, their families, the community, the network and the nation.

As far as I'm concern, the VA has a very long way to go to live up to that mission statement when it comes to this country's transgender veterans.

Finally, the survey showed how transgender people are treated while they are serving this country. Many felt harassment and abuse by others and were investigated for being gay regardless of what sexual orientation was at the time. It shows that transgender service members can no longer be ignored in the discussion of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We are also a target under that failed policy and people pushing for its repeal need to realize that we have to be included.

In conclusion, I hope that this new document will help in our continuous struggles to become equally treated while serving in the military, equally treated while using the VA and considered equal citizens in the great country of ours. We served this country and we served proudly.

After three and a half months of dribbling out raw data for things such as job discrimination, violence and statistics associated with Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Transgender Veterans Survey Report has now been published. You can read the entire report on the Transgender American Veterans Association web site. Some of the information I will present here has been seen before, while other statistics will be revealed for the first time.

The idea for the survey was presented to the TAVA Board in mid November of 2007 and after creating 117 questions, the Board approved the survey and we placed it on SurveyMonkey.com, a web site that has an excellent reputation with those who conduct surveys. The survey started on December 13, 2007, and ended on May 1, 2008. Between May and August, the Palm Center located a person to analyze the data and then located two people who could write the report. Even thought it took three and a half months for the Palm Center to finish the report, this is record time compared to how long this process normally takes.

Again, the full report can be read at Transgender American Veterans Association web site.

(Dr. Jeanne Scheper from The Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara coordinated the report and Dr. Bonnie Moradi, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida did the analyzing. Dr. Gary Gates, Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Institute, University of California acted as a consultant and provided guidance for survey. Professors Karl Bryant, PhD, of the State University of New York, New Paltz, NY and Kristen Schilt, PhD, of the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, wrote the White Paper report.)


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As one of the T's who has believed in separating the T from the lgb in the past.I've come full circle and now understand how very interwoven lgbt discrimination is. Not including the T in the repeal of dadt will leave any butch lesbian or effeminate gay male open to gender presentation discrimination even though their sexual preference will be protected. I have identified as mtf Transsexual from a very early age I've never identified as a gay male.Yet while I was in the Army I underwent the gay witch hunt experience.Not just on one occasion but on several.I had a sargeant hit on me in what I believe was a set up to try and catch me as gay.Then I was asked by both my First Sargeant and Co if I was gay. So while I might view myself as other than gay or a gay male or lesbian may see themselves as other than T we're pretty much viewed as the same thing by those who harbor ill will towards us.As for how I've been treated by the VA I would say very poorly and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

Thanks for sharing this, Monica.