February 23, 2021 at 6:52 pm PST | by Brody Levesque
VA Secretary orders greater LGBTQ inclusivity in agency care for veterans
Veterans Administration Secretary Denis McDonough (Photo Credit: Official VA Photo)

WASHINGTON – Veterans Administration Secretary McDonough issued a memorandum Tuesday directing his agency to review its policies and procedures as it relates to the care of LGBTQ veterans, their families, caregivers, survivors, and employees.

McDonough told reporters in a briefing that he expected the policy review would be finished by March 30.

“My goal as secretary is to make sure VA is welcoming to all veterans, including our transgender veterans,” he said.

McDonough stressed that he and his agency would focus on inclusivity, diversity and equity under his tenure as VA secretary following  President Biden’s recently signed Executive Orders (Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform, signed on January 25, 2021, and Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, signed on January 20, 2021)

The Secretary told reporters that as he chooses his leadership team he will ensure that there would be full compliance with the president’s executive orders. He didn’t volunteer any further information on potential candidates for those positions.

“That will be a really important piece of demonstrating my seriousness about diversity and inclusion,” he said. “Our political appointees to date reflect that, and that’s intentional.”

Under the terms of the memo VA Under Secretaries and Staff Offices directed to execute the following:

Conduct a policy review to determine whether any regulations, directives, policies and procedures promote equity for and inclusion of LGBT Veterans, families, caregivers, survivors or employees. Design and implement a remediation plan if the review identifies discriminatory policies towards LGBT beneficiaries and employees.  

Perform an assessment of the necessary steps to eliminate the exclusion of “gender alterations” as currently stated in the medical benefits package, more commonly referred to as gender affirmation care and services, to include assessment of statutory and regulatory requirements as well as funding, staffing, technology and other resources required to provide all medically necessary services. 

Develop means to measure the experience of LGBT beneficiaries and employees and to include their perspectives in the development of future guidance and any barriers that LGBT beneficiaries and employees may face in accessing the full range of VA care, benefits and services are identified and addressed. 

Develop a plan to ensure that employees are trained on inclusive, respectful and welcoming interaction with LGBT beneficiaries and implement an enterprise plan to enhance data and information systems with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, such that beneficiaries and employees may independently and securely self-identify and be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns.

Stars and Stripes reported that McDonough also promised to address racial inequity at the agency during the news briefing. Last year, a group of Black VA employees organized to voice their experience with racism, which they said was made worse by leaders who refused to address it.

“Confronting this question of racial inequity will be a fundamental part of my tenure here, not least because the president is demanding it,” he said.

The VA currently provides LGBTQ specific care to veterans. California, the most populous state in the nation, has the largest veteran population (1.56 million) including LGBTQ vets.

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