Yale Law School Clinic Fights for Transgender Veterans’ Access to Gender-Affirming Surgery

New Haven, Connecticut – Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services clinic has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) over its policy on gender-affirming surgery. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), seeks to compel the VA to address a rulemaking petition that was presented to them in 2016. The petition called for the inclusion of gender-affirming surgery in the VA’s medical coverage.

TAVA submitted the petition in 2016, but the VA never formally responded to it. In 2021, Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough announced that the VA’s policy would change to include gender-affirming surgery. However, the VA’s failure to respond to the petition prompted the lawsuit, which argues that the delay violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

The lawsuit is being handled by the Jerome N. Legal Services Organization, a program at Yale Law School that provides legal representation to those who cannot afford private attorneys. The organization’s Veterans Legal Services clinic is representing the petitioners in this case.

According to Sonora Taffa, a member of the Veterans Legal Services clinic, the lawsuit aims to hold the VA accountable for its lack of response and ensure transparency. The focus of the lawsuit is to obtain a response from the VA, and Taffa expressed hope that the response will be positive.

The lawsuit also highlights the testimonies of two members of TAVA who submitted declarations. These testimonies underscore the importance of gender-affirming surgery as life-saving care for transgender veterans.

Taffa emphasized that the delay in responding to TAVA’s petition has left many transgender veterans without access to necessary medical care. Alex Johnson, another member of the Veterans Legal Services clinic, added that the denial of gender-affirming surgery can pose significant risks to the mental health of transgender veterans, who already face higher rates of suicidal ideation and self-harm.

In addition to the lack of access to care, transgender veterans also face financial burdens. While the VA covers the full cost of gender confirmation procedures, veterans with private insurance may encounter barriers such as limited coverage or high copays. In states with legislative restrictions, the VA may be the only option for essential procedures.

The VA has declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, in a 2021 speech, Secretary McDonough acknowledged the need to expand the VA’s care to include gender-confirmation surgery.

The lawsuit seeks to compel the VA to respond to TAVA’s petition and ensure that transgender veterans have access to essential medical care. By bringing the case forward, Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services clinic aims to advocate for the well-being of all members of the veteran community and address the specific needs of transgender veterans.