Jarrod Chlapowski

A Vet and An Activist Walk Into the VA

Filed By Jarrod Chlapowski | February 20, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, ENDA, military, Servicemembers United, strategy, VA

I feel sheepish walking into a VA hospital for an appointment.

va.jpgI feel especially guilty taking the elevator to my appointment. It's on the fourth floor, but when I'm surrounded by three folks in wheelchairs and another struggling to hold on to the side of the elevator, the functionality of my all-too-healthy legs becomes more apparent. I have five minutes before I'm late for my appointment, however, so on I board and up I go.

Only one of the wheelchairs is attended by a caregiver. The other two weakly push their vehicles into the elevator, one dropping a ziploc full of quarters. I dive to pick them up before they spill too much, only partially successful before handing the bag back to the man as the elevator doors close. The standing patient looks at me, smiles, and says, "Oorah, Marine." I'm wearing my Servicemembers United t-shirt, olive green with the SU logo on the chest, my hair freshly buzzed. I shake my head. "Naw, man, Army."

"Well, then Hooah." Still grasping the side of the elevator, he swallows, leans in close, whispers: "You know they got cheerleaders on the 4th floor today? Yeah man, they're signing autographs and everything." I fake interest, grinning. "No kidding? Man, I came on a good day then."

"Yeah, boy. They got brownies, and this Casino Day thing going on. You should check it out." I don't make any effort to let him know the cheerleaders hold no interest for me. I don't feel up to it, and besides, he didn't come to learn about gay rights.

He came to be helped.

I often argue that the entire VA budget should be incorporated into the larger DOD budget. If we make the commitment to send X troops to war, then we have to expect to pay X education costs and X medical expenses for the expected duration of that troop's life. One of the consequences of an underfunded VA is a larger bureaucracy that extends the application process and weeds out all but the most persistent applicants.

Veterans care tends to be mostly a casual aside when war is considered because clean-up is typically not a concept embraced by the human psyche. We throw ourselves into the most heated campaigns, basking in the excitement and shifting strategy with the latest nugget of information. The aftermath is not so exciting, mostly because it tends to be predictable and rife with administrative details. It becomes neglected as folks jump to the next fight, quickly forgetting there are things left to do, with much less resources.

I received a peculiar message in my inbox yesterday, from an individual upset that I was not committing my organization to the fight for ENDA, and that I was not allowing him access to our membership for his own needs. My point to him earlier was that Servicemembers United is primarily a veterans organization, and unless it is beneficial to our constituency to focus our resources on issues that are not directly related to repeal implementation and our overall trajectory to become the first LGBT veteran service organization (VSO), I don't see it fair to our membership to jump into other fights without good reason.

These grumblings are not unique, and I imagine there will be an expectation for every LGBT organization to jump into the ENDA fight whether or not it is appropriate to its mission. This is problematic, as this restricts the ability of organizations to specialize in what they do best in favor of appeasing a community beyond their scope. I will say one thing: though SU may end up joining the ENDA fight should it become relevant, I will not allow our membership to be exploited.

The gentleman concluded his message with an admonishment that he had "thought [I was] a better man...and a better soldier." Though I only served a short five years in the Army, I don't recall abandoning our own as a value the military holds in particular esteem. Because, in the end, we are servicemembers first, and always have been.


After the appointment, I see the man again the hallway, brownie in hand and chatting up a few other vets. He nods in my direction. "Did you get your autograph?"

"I did," I lie. "Did you?"

"I'm still eating these cookies, man." He dusts his hands off on his legs and limps over. "Hey listen, I feel weird asking you this, but I'm still waiting on my pension and they don't have these Casino Days but every once in a while." He had walked over to the hospital from the shelter across the street, and needed a few dollars to get by the next day or so.

I give him the only bill in my pocket, a twenty. Because I know he needs it, and I know I can't count on someone else giving him the money later.

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Jarrod you constantly amaze me with your writing.

Thanks for all that you do.

I agree with you that groups like SU should be focused on active-duty and servicemember issues but isn't ENDA at least tangentially related to your group's mission? After all, DoD is also comprised of thousands of civilians including many veterans. There is also the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the hundreds of defense-related private companies** that employ veterans. Passage of ENDA would impact all of them.

** - I'm speaking of not just those who make armaments or weapons systems like say Northrup-Grumman, but all the private companies who provide clothing, food, hygiene products, etc. as well as those who provide services to local bases.

I'm not sure what VA you went to but it doesn't quite sound like any I've been to.Yes you meet the down on their luck kind at most VA's but I've never had one ask me for a thing not even a cigarette.You can find a ton more of non Veteran homeless at most shelters than you can find veterans.You also see ton's of those who are proud to have served at VA hospitals and don't hold the military responsible for their having been willing to serve this country.As for the wounded some of the worst I've met were the ones that can walk in under their own power. As a veteran I have to ask what the T on the end of your LGBT means because if it means transgender I don't identify with that word.I am a Veteran but I don't identify with LGBTG as I consider myself heterosexual.I also think you underestimate the need for an inclusive ENDA one that includes both the Transgender identified and the Transsexual only identified while your at it you could throw every LGB person that doesn't measure up to what society considers masculine or feminine and I'm sure there would also be more than a few straight people that would be greatful for the protection.As for the word Transgender I am lobbying the VA to get them to change their policy and offer the Veteran the choice to be recognized as being either TG or TS.Personally I identify the word Transgender with those who identify as also being LGB.

This is a pretty regular experience given the VA's I've been to - Atlanta and DC, specifically. I've heard horror stories from many others who've shared similar experiences, but that doesn't matter, as anecdotes are meant to be personal. The VA is severely underfunded, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone working on VA issues that would disagree on that point.

As to the rest of your comment, I don't see how that has anything to do with this post.

The rest of the comment relates to your mention of not currently supporting Enda at this time. It also has to do with the fact that many Transsexuals don't identify with the word Transgender many I know are vets.If you want TS Vets to join your organization you'll offer them the choice not to be identintified as TG. I also support the idea of one group representing all LGBTSTG Vets instead of several.As for the VA being underfunded they could always use more money the question is can the government afford it the way it is currently run? Also a good question for you is your group united enough that it can support TS Vet's even heterosexual id'd ones and their needs?

Interesting, Have you ever met Monica Helms, President or founder of TAVA? You should get to know her.


Could you please be more specific by what you mean by hetrosexual identified transsexual? Are you referring to what some people identify as the original Harry Benjamin Syndrome, prior to surgery male body with female gender identity sexually attracted to males, that after surgery no longer consider themselves transsexuals, but instead consider themselves straight women?

TG definitions are evolving and you might want to keep up. TG applies only to those that self identify as such. You, by your statement are not TG, but you do fit into the definition of a person that could be TG if you so wanted to define yourself as such, just as an effeminate gay man is not TG because he does not identify himself as such, but he could if he wanted to identify as TG.

The latest definition of TG has no relation to sexual attraction, and how could it for a group of people with a gender identity that does not (in many cases) that does not agree 100% with body sex. Do you use body sex to decide sexual attraction classification, or do you use gender identity? And what about those either intersex or whose gender identity is not binary, but part male, part female.

I don't believe believe the word transsexual makes a distinction in the sexual orientation of the person that identifies with it.It simply means that their GID is so strong that surgery is not an option.Transgender is to flexible a term that causes unnecessary confusion. I do agree with the old Benjamin theory that after surgery you should move on.That doesn't mean you forget your past simply that it is now your past.Otherwise what is the point of all the therapy and pain endured? I do realize that for LGB identified Transsexuals they can't move on as easily because they get stuck in a community that doesn't fully accept their transition and really hasn't helped T people. I have talked to Monica in the past concerning an incident I had at a VA facility.I believe she gave me bad advice considering what the incident was about.On top of that I won't join a group that doesn't allow me to identify solely as TS and attempts to shove me under its TG umbrella.

Being a Vet, I have never been to a VA center! Only Recently have i realized the Flash Back and Sleep problems about a Specific event I encountered while in the Military is what is Identified as PTSD! I know i should visit the VA. But have not at this time! ENDA & Servicing T-people would help is a lot! So help US?

Regina the VA is getting better helping TS/TG Vets depending on what region you live in.You shouldn't have problems getting help for your PTSD if you choose to go to the VA for treatment.We need support with both Enda and getting the VA to adopt national standards based on modern medical standards for our treatment.Being treated for being TS/TG isn't cosmetic as I'm sure you know.

though SU will not work on ENDA will SU work on changing the military rules to allow transgender service?

Good question. I'd like to know that too.

Beautifully written price, Jarrod. Much more personal than your regular DADT factual stuff. I love it & look forward to reading more.

I’m a veteran with 20 years service. I’m Intersex and Transgender and I have PTSD which is the result of my life before the military. I’ve been in a VA facility once and even then felt that I wasted my time trying to do anything. So I left and I’ve never gone back in to one since.
As for your organization not supporting ENDA, sure I understand that. No problem, no issue from me. I do wish DADT Repeal included concrete steps towards allowing service by Transgender and Intersex citizens to serve openly and to provide appropriate medical care.

janiice J carney | February 21, 2011 9:45 AM

As a 100% service connacted Tran's disabled Veteran, I have received excelent care in Boston, Nh , and at Bay Pines in St Petersburg. I find that most veterans that knock the VA have never used there services. retuning to the article, I recall when I started my transition ,how hard it was going to my VA apoitments. In the last deacde it has gotten much better. I hope to be working with other T-and GLB vets soon as part of the Vet to Vet program soon.

I was drafted during the Vietnam era and ended up serving most of my active duty in Germany. I sure had lots of fun, I was also out of the closet and amazed how many Gay men were in the Army in 1966. I escaped several witch hunts and honorably discharged.

Today I depend on the VA for my medical care in San Francisco. The care is top quality, but the staff are overextended. My Dr. is great, I have always been given what I needed. Without the VA, I would not be able to afford health insurance.

I am not a veteran myself, but in the late 1990's I knew several veterans who said that HIV+ and PWA patients were treated like pariahs at the VA -- and this was in Southern California.

I hope that the last 10 to 15 years has made a big difference in the VA's attitude toward HIV treatment. If not, with DADT now repealed, this may be a new area that LGB(T?) activists needs to address.

janiice J carney | February 21, 2011 12:43 PM

Why did you put transgender in parenthesis and with a question mark? I found that odd. do you think it is questionable that T vets can also have AIDS?

No, I put "T" that way simply because the current DADT repeal does not clear the way for transpeople to openly join the military -- and if they can't serve, then theoretically they aren't eligible for VA benefits ...

... but we all know, through a host of various ways, transpeople do serve and they deserve VA benefits ...

Even so, the trans issue is a separate issue ... because Congress and the military are handling it as such.

And ... sorry to have to say this, but ... please quit being so paranoid, reading every possible nuance in its worst possible light.

AJ the VA does treat (T) Vets even though technically we are banned from serving.Many of us joined back in the dark ages and were young. I was seventeen so even though I knew I was T at that age, Family and society tried to convince me the military would make a man of me.I like the way that you put the T in brackets with the question mark. It should be that ways all the time since not all T's are LGB or wish to be automatically associated with the LGB.

janiice J carney | February 21, 2011 6:54 PM

Aj I am not paranoid, I joined the army and served three years. I am a 100% disabled Vietnam Vet . I have no problems with the VA .I asked you a simple question, and you went on a "You People" are all Paranoid thing! For your info all LGBT veterans with honable discharges get VA medical care.

I rest my case ... it seems that no matter how careful I try to be, my wording so often gets questioned ...

... so let me try putting it this way: If you want non-trans people, gay and straight and whatever, to be outspoken trans allies, then my wish for you would be to find an empowering attitude so that you can accept such outside support gracefully and maximize its potential impact.

No, I do not aspire to be your "hero" or your "rescuer" ... but I do aspire to be a trans ally.

AJ thanks for trying to be a (T?) allie. Understand that we are like trying to herd cats and your effort while lambasted by one (T?) is appreciated by another(T?).
Jarrod I understand you are trying to form a group that helps all LGB(T?) and I respect that. I didn't mean for your post to turn into a one way (T?) post fest. I do and have advocated for LGB treatment at the VA while advocating for (T?) care.Before DADT repeal I was telling the VA that when DADT soldiers are discharged they will know longer be bound to remain silent and that they should be treated with the same respect as any Veteran.Good luck with your group and if you decide that you will allow for TS Vets to join outside the TG umbrella I'd be happy to join.

janiice J carney | February 22, 2011 12:13 AM

No, I do not aspire to be your "hero" or your "rescuer" ... but I do aspire to be a trans ally.?????????????

Goodbye, you make no sense. You can never be a Trans ally, and are far from being anyone’s hero or rescuer. I suggest you try to meet a real transgender veteran have some coffee, and try to have a conversation. I am empowered enough to have many GLB friends that understand Transgender issues. You should inspire to work on your wording, and not be so quick to attack and belittle transgender people because you cannot express yourself well.

Janice maybe you should take the time to sit down and have coffee with a TS Vet that refuses to be cajoled under the Transgender umbrella. Then maybe you will be in a better place as to decide who is an allie or not. I can tell you that if you think you have the right to force me to identify as TG you are no allie of mine.

Goodbye, you make no sense. You can never be a Trans ally ...

Thanks, Janiice, for letting me know how hopelessly uneducatable I am -- now I have a perfect excuse to stop trying (which I will not do, in any event).

Michael@LeonardMatlovich.com | February 22, 2011 2:25 PM

Of course, there is no requirement to be on one's soapbox all the time. At Thanksgiving, I don't launch into a diatribe while carving the turkey about the New Haven Colony having executed William Plaine in 1646 for sex with men, and other examples of homohating punishments the Puritans brought with them from England to the New World in their own flight from "religious oppression."

But, with all due respect, some would think the better part of valor, particularly in a "leader," would have been to remain silent rather than choosing to twice verbally reinforce someone else's assumption that one is straight, particularly while wearing a t-shirt whose back declares, "STAND UP. SOUND OFF."

Some would say such an action is endemic of a perspective that deplores practicality in favor of immediate satisfaction. Respectfully, of course.

Ah, Matlovich, the predictable troll.

Your list of accomplishments is amazingly thin for you to talk about what makes a real "leader." Maybe get something concrete done and people will take you seriously.

Go back to your hidey-hole before I post my screenshot of the Facebook thread where you called Jonathan Capehart a "porch faggot."

You're the Ross Perot of all things QUILTBAG -- nobody really remembers much about you, except that you're batshit crazy.

If anyone's interested in reading Mr. Matlovich's racist diatribe, feel free to get in touch with me.

I appreciate SU and its hard work on lobbying for and implementing repeal of DADT, and agree that there is still work to be done as a LGBT VSO. As DOMA comes to an end we will still need SU to lobby for benefits and a fair military free of harassment and reprisal. Everyone that is called to serve this nation deserves to serve with a clear mind. One can't worry about this superior or subordinate or policy or the treatment of a loved one while in the trenches, at sea or in the air. There are plenty of lobbyists working for marriage equality, and I am sure SU will lend its articulate and well reasoned voice to that cause, however, I think SU is committed to seeing fair and open service. This will help make us a better military, and a better nation. Good article Chlapowski!