Natalie Kastner, an Army veteran who served at Fort Drum, N.Y.. for two years, got into his bathtub and took scissors to his own right testicle in 2022. Without any medical training or anesthesia, he tried to perform his own transgender surgery, since the Veterans Administration doctors wouldn’t do it for him, due to current regulations. He ended up in the hospital after severing an artery and nearly bleeding to death.
Kastner is one of the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit demanding that the VA start performing transgender surgeries on those who want them, and without further delay.
The Transgender American Veterans Association filed the federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last week to force the VA to provide genital castration surgery and the lifelong medical care associated with the procedures and hormone dousing that goes along with transgenderism.
The group says there are about 163,000 living transgender veterans. Some are getting limited transgender care, such as hormone therapy, at VA facilities.
The VA says that 10,000 transgender Veterans are receiving transition-related care in the VA healthcare system. This figure is an underestimate given that not all transgender Veterans meet criteria for a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria and also many choose not to disclose their gender identity to providers, the VA says.
The group said it has been two years since Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough promised to make this transgender surgery available, but the VA has failed to follow through.
“The VA’s delay endangers the health and well-being of many of the nation’s 163,000 transgender veterans. It also violates the VA’s legal obligations,” the organization wrote.
As soon as President Joe Biden took over in 2021, he repealed the military’s ban on transgender surgery at the VA.
“Transgender veterans have waited far too long for the VA to provide the gender-affirming surgery so many of us need to survive. We hope that this lawsuit will force Secretary McDonough to follow through on what he has been promising us since 2021. We’re tired of empty promises; we need care,” said Rebekka Eshler, president of TAVA.
TAVA warned in November that if the VA didn’t make a decision on an earlier petition by the group, TAVA would file a lawsuit.
“The VA responded with a letter that recycled the same language it has been using since 2021, affirming its plan to provide gender-confirmation surgery someday — but declining to decide the petition,” the organization said.
“VA’s failure to provide gender-confirmation surgery has been more dangerous for me than my time in the service,” said Kastner, a TAVA member who has not received the surgery through the VA.
“Without VA coverage for this surgery, I was financially out of options. I tried to perform my own gender-affirming surgery at home, without any medical training. Were it not for emergency room care, I would have lost my life. I was told that the VA would take care of me because I was willing to risk my life for this country. Instead, I was safer in the service than I am now,” Kastner said.
In June 2021 the secretary of the VA announced a rule-change process was being initiated to expand current health care benefits to include such surgical procedures.
“The rule change process will take time and includes a period of public comment. Until the final rule is published, VHA will continue to provide all other transition-related care including but not limited to hormones, gender affirming counseling, prosthetics, vocal coaching, and infertility treatment,” the VA says on its website.
The current guidance, as amended in 2023, gives the Veterans Health Administration new direction on treating transgender, intersex, pansexual, and other varieties of alternative gender identity. It notes the VA does not provide transgender surgery due to current VA regulations and does not provide plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes only.