Transgender veterans in southern Arizona have a new resource to turn towards when they need medical, clinical, or mental health care: the nation’s fourth trans-focused VA health clinic opened in Tucson on Wednesday.
At least 130 patients have already signed up to receive health services at Southern Arizona Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System’s newest clinic in Tucson, according to local TV station WCNC. The Transgender Treatment Team at the clinic, which offers specialized health services for trans vets, began seeing patients Wednesday in its location on the second floor of the Southern Arizona VA’s Women’s Health building.
"I think it’s absolutely wonderful. We’re finally recognized by the world and by the VA and for us to have our own special clinic is unbelievable,” Sue McConnell, a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, told Tucson News Now.
McConnell, who was a boiler technician, meaning she worked "at the very bottom" of ammunition ships, was adamant when speaking with WCNC that the specialized services offered at the Tucson clinic have been well-earned by the veterans seeking to access them.
Sonia Perez-Padilla, a physician who serves on the Tucson VA Transgender Treatment Team, praised the clinic’s “welcoming environment” to WCNC. She noted that before the clinic opened, trans vets were at risk of poor health because they often avoided medical treatment for fear of transphobic censure or they self-medicated by obtaining transitioning medication such as hormones from the Internet. The clinic also provides an alternative for trans vets who previously would only see a primary care doctor for almost all care.
After years of piecemeal progress and legal challenges by trans veterans, the VA’s trans-affirming measures have mushroomed this year. Last month the VA opened its first health care clinic dedicated to transgender service members in Cleveland. Using space inside the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center in Ohio, this clinic offers primary-care services, along with hormonal therapy, and mental health care. Currently, there are about two dozen trans patients among the 112,000 people who receive care at that facility.
There are approximately 134,000 trans veterans, and an estimated 15,500 active duty service members are transgender, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In July, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed that the Pentagon is working on a plan that would lift the military’s long-standing ban on open service by transgender Americans in as little as six months.