Rep. Matt Rosendale is looking to take action against the Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed rule change that would permit the agency to compensate gender reassignment surgery for transgender vets, arguing the agency needs to focus its resources on service-related injuries — and calling on fellow members to stand with him at this flashpoint in the “culture war.”
The Montana Republican, who is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he is looking to garner pushback on a grassroots level during the rule-making process to prevent the policy change from being implemented, but is also exploring legislative options to restrict the VA from moving forward with its plans.
“My understanding is it’s going to take up a full-blown rule-making process in order to get this implemented, so my hope is that we can generate enough outcry from the general public that does not feel that this is a worthy use of taxpayer dollars that possibly we can keep this from taking place,” he told The Post in an interview.
“I will be speaking with the media around the state of Montana and making sure that they hear, and we will certainly be discussing this with my colleagues in Congress, and honestly the biggest hurdle we have is just fighting the culture war, and my colleagues having the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say no, this is not acceptable. We know this is wrong, we know that the Veterans Administration is not expending proper funds to treat our veterans right now for the benefits that they were promised. And so, let’s go ahead and get focused on that.”
His comments come in the wake of VA Secretary Denis McDonough announcing the change in Florida over the weekend.
While the VA has been paying for prescription hormone therapy and mental health treatment for transgender veterans since 2013, a change made under the Obama administration, it has not covered surgical procedures.
A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation showed between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty military personnel identified as transgender, but Rosendale said he believes the numbers are higher, arguing it could prove to be costly for the agency.
“I mean, the first information that they presented to us was that there was probably going to be 4,000 or less veterans that were trying to utilize a service. But there’s other information that shows previously, that there was 15,000 active military that are self-described transgenders, and as many as 134,000 veterans, and when you start looking at the expense associated with that. It’s anywhere around $100,000 whether you’re male to female or female to male, one is at $90,000 and the other is $110,000,” he said.
“So averaging at $100,000 per operation, and we’re looking at, it’s something that could be $30 billion over the next 10 years at a time when the Veterans Administration isn’t delivering the benefits that they had promised veterans to begin with — service-related injuries that they should be receiving their benefits for.”
Rosendale’s comments are at odds with fellow Montana Sen. John Tester, a Democrat who praised the move as a step in the right direction for LGBTQ rights.
“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” he said in a statement to the Air Force Times. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”
Rosendale said he is planning on writing a letter to McDonough calling on him to reconsider his statement.
“As you noted in your remarks, veterans suffering from Gender Identity Disorder experience suicidal ideation at a rate significantly higher than the general veteran population. We believe that the VA pushing unproven and irreversible sex reassignment surgeries on such a vulnerable population is dangerous and irresponsible. Not only do sex reassignment surgeries not improve outcomes for patients, but what little research we do have shows that these procedures may make the problem even worse,” a draft letter obtained by The Post said.
“In the Obama Administration’s 2016 ‘Decision Memo for Gender Dysphoria and Gender Reassignment Surgery’, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid correctly noted that those that had undergone sex reassignment procedures experienced ‘increased mortality and psychiatric hospitalization compared to the matched controls.’ The mortality was primarily due to completed suicides. Moreover, with so many of our nation’s heroes experiencing significant delays in receiving the medical care they need through the VA, we believe it is disgraceful that instead of working to address problems in the access and delivery of true medical care, the VA is pushing experimental sex reassignment surgeries on veterans.”
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