The recent announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs to broaden the coverage of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures for veterans marks a significant and commendable step in the journey towards equality and inclusivity in veterans’ healthcare. This move, aligning with the Defense Department’s policy updates, notably removes the requirement for veterans to be married and to provide their own eggs and sperm to qualify for IVF coverage. It’s a victory for LGBTQ+ and unmarried veterans who have long faced discriminatory hurdles in accessing reproductive healthcare.
This decision, coming in the wake of a lawsuit filed in August 2023, demonstrates a responsiveness to the evolving needs and rights of all veterans. It acknowledges a simple but powerful truth: The right to start a family should not be constrained by marital status, sexual orientation or traditional notions of family structure. By ensuring that more veterans have access to IVF through VA’s healthcare program, we are honoring their service with equal respect and dignity.
However, as we applaud this progress, we must also recognize that there is more ground to cover in the quest for comprehensive and inclusive veteran healthcare. This brings us to a pressing and often overlooked issue: the healthcare rights of transgender veterans. It’s time to extend the spirit of inclusivity and equality to them as well, particularly concerning gender-affirming surgeries.
Transgender veterans, like all veterans, have served their country with honor and deserve equitable access to all healthcare services, including gender-affirming surgeries. These procedures are not merely cosmetic or elective; they are often essential for the mental and physical well-being of transgender individuals. Recognizing this need, a group of transgender veterans has filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide and cover gender-affirming surgeries. This legal action mirrors the struggle and eventual triumph of the broader IVF coverage and can potentially pave the way for a more inclusive healthcare policy.
In updating its IVF policy, the VA has shown that it is capable of positive change. Now it’s time to apply that same progressive thinking to the needs of transgender veterans. Removing barriers to gender-affirming surgeries would not only be a step towards equality but also a recognition of the diverse and changing face of our veteran community. It’s an opportunity for the VA to lead by example in providing comprehensive, inclusive healthcare that respects and meets the needs of all veterans.
As we celebrate the VA’s decision to make IVF more accessible, let’s not forget the ongoing battles for inclusivity within our veteran community. The fight for equal healthcare access is far from over, but each victory brings us closer to a world where all veterans receive the care and respect they rightfully deserve, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation or marital status.
Michael Embrich is a veteran, former member of the secretary of Veterans Affairs’ Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans, and former congressional staffer.