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The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C. is shown in this undated file photo.
The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C. is shown in this undated file photo. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — Veterans who identify as transgender or nonbinary are now able to indicate their preference in their official medical records with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The department announced Wednesday that it added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender. The gender identifier, along with a veteran’s preferred name, will be displayed on a patient’s health record.

The change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients, the VA said. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

Shortly after taking the helm of the VA in February, McDonough vowed to focus on inclusivity, diversity and equity during his tenure as secretary. One of McDonough’s first actions was to initiate an agency-wide review of the department’s policies to determine how to make it a more welcoming place for LGBTQ patients and employees.

An 18-member task force was created to handle the review, and the VA announced Tuesday that the group had issued 88 recommendations. The process of considering those recommendations would take four years, the agency said.

“We recognize this work requires a culture shift and will not happen overnight, but the [President Joe] Biden-[Vice President Kamala] Harris administration and I will see this through to completion,” McDonough said in a statement.

One of the recommendations from the task force was to collect information from patients and employees about their race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. Task force members also suggested the VA do more outreach to underserved communities of veterans, such as those living in rural or remote areas or veterans who speak little English.

The VA created a smaller task force that will be charged with developing policies and adopting changes based on the recommendations.

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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