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Friday, April 2, 2010

No Respect for Transgender Veteran at VA Hospital

He served in the US Navy during Vietnam.  He wore the uniform and served with honor and pride.  All his life he felt different.  His body was foreign to him.  He hated his body.   It didn't look anything like the image of himself in his mind.  In his mind, he was a woman.  His external body and genitalia was a betrayal.

In 2004 "he" became "she".  For the purpose of this blog we'll call her Jane.  Jane started her transition in 2004.  In an attempt to be "normal" (as defined by the rest of the population), Jane suspended her transition and married a woman.  Jane's ex-wife tried to stop the transition after agreeing, in front of their pastor, that it would be okay with her for Jane to continue with her transition.  The wife changed her mind after the marriage because of pressure from her friends.  The marriage ended badly and Jane began living full time as a woman in June 2007 after twice attempting suicide.

In 2008 Jane started hormone therapy on her own.  This is a common practice among transgenders who can't afford the expense of seeing endocrinologists.  They purchase it on the black market or from any number of websites that sell it without a prescription.  Here is just one website as an example. The problem is they have no doctor to regulate their doses or monitor their heath while they undergo their transition.  They put themselves at great risk by doing this on their own.  For more information on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), read the Wikipedia definition.  It's very thorough.

Later in 2008, Jane began seeing an Endocrinologist.  In 2009, she received letters approving her for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) after five years of psychotherapy where she repeatedly tested as a woman.  This is an expensive, complicated surgery and for now, Jane has put this surgery on hold.

Here's the interesting part.  Well, it's all interesting.  It's also very sad because of how Jane is being treated.  You already know Jane is a Navy Veteran.  She's also a service-connected disabled Veteran because of her service in Vietnam and good old Agent Orange.  The endocrinologist she was seeing?  A VA Doctor we'll call Dr. X.  Jane had several run-ins with the now retired Chief of Endocrinology.  This goes back to 2004.  Dr. X told Jane that she needed to lose weight, that her cholesterol and triglycerides were out of control.  Jane went to work on that after Dr X correctly predicted a heart attack.  Jane went back to Dr X after she recovered from her heart attack and had control of the medical issues her doctor had insisted on.  According to Jane, she welcomed her back into the Transgender program "like a long lost friend".  Dr X then proceeded to insult Jane with regard to her hair, face, makeup and clothes.  She questioned Jane about who she was having sex with, who she was involved with, and told her about other transgendered Veterans who were patients.  Still, Dr X refused to start Jane on Hormone Replacement Therapy.  This was a crushing blow to Jane.

Jane filed complaints with the VAOIG about Dr X's behavior towards her.  Allegedly these complaints were ignored because of Dr X's status in the hospital.  Jane went back to Dr X.  Dr X again denied Jane her HRT medications after angrily letting Jane know that she knew Jane had reported her to the VAOIG.  Jane got angry and stormed out of the exam room.  Dr X ultimately wrote the comment in Jane's medical record that won her service connection for PTSD.  Jane said she wrote (words to the effect of), " I threatened her and my behavior was very typical for a veteran with chronic PTSD. "  Jane's VSO saw that statement written in her medical records and used it to win service connection for PTSD.  Jane says,
The truth is, Wendi the only thing I did when this doctor denied me the third time was stop talking, grab my coat, purse and a book and stomp out of the exam room because I knew at that point my anger really was out of control. I never threatened this woman. Thats not my way but yeah I was angry. I had yanked the door too hard and I heard it bang into something but I was already out of the room and on my way out of the hospital. I didn't want to be arrested so I knew I had to get outside,  find my car and SIT and not drive- just sit and fume.

Jane's primary care physician has tried several times to get her back into the transgender program and each time she's been denied.  Her primary care physician even tried to enroll her into the Transgender Program in another city but Dr X controls that program so she was denied entry into that as well.

Dr X retired 8-10 months ago.  The Director at the other hospital is retiring soon.  Jane asked for another consult to the transgender clinic and has gotten it, but she still doesn't know if she'll be receiving her prescription for HRT therapy.

But the story isn't over.  For Jane it may never be over.  Two days ago, while at the VAMC, Jane had to use the restroom.  Jane lives full time as a woman as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  Part of that means using women's restroom facilities.  She carries a letter with her which explains she is a male to female transgender living full time as a woman so she uses female facilities.  Here is a copy of her email to me:

Just to let you know there may be a complaint filed by a VA doctor at the VA Hospital. The complaint would be from a female doctor angry because I used the women's restroom during my visit to the pain clinic today, February  23, 2010.  When I walked out this woman had a look on her face of complete disgust.

For the record I do have a letter from a psychologist stating I am transgender and I should use the women's restroom as part of my M2F transition. That letter is about 2 years old. I had to get it updated once because the original letter was nearly in tatters.

IMO, this REPEATEDLY underscores the need of  education and emphasis on  respecting LGBT vets which was done in Region Twenty but ignored in Region Ten.

I am ready to fight because its been going on TOO LONG in this region.

There is no excuse for this.  There are plenty of VA Hospitals around the country embracing Transgendered Veterans.  There is an organization called Veterans Do Ask Do Tell trying to get Veteran Hospitals around the country to recognize that LGBT Veterans have special needs for counseling that have to be met.  They've had a lot of success with this in Dallas and Milwaukee.  Here in Tampa, Florida, I was turned down flat when I asked for assistance in starting up a mental health support group for LGBT Veterans at my VAMC.

Jane is a service connected, disabled Vietnam Veteran, Invisible Reader.  She put in her time during a horrendous conflict.  I'm not arguing that her transgender issues are service connected.  I am arguing that as a Veteran she deserves to be treated with respect.  She deserves to be given the treatment she needs to become whole for the first time in her life.  The VA treats me for non-service connected issues.  Why aren't they treating Jane for her non-service connected issues?  Her disability rating is high enough to qualify for it.

I've been working on this blog for a long time, Invisible Reader.  Jane has been very patient with me as I've asked her some very uncomfortable questions.  She has responded openly and honestly.  That's been difficult for her to do.  She doesn't let many people into her inner circle.  She doesn't trust many people.  After hearing her story, I don't blame her.  She's often the victim of Transphobia not only from the VA Hospital but in her own small town as well.  She recently found out that her VA disability claim was submitted incorrectly.  I have to wonder if her service officer did this intentionally because he's transphobic or was it an honest mistake?  The service organization she gave her power of attorney to belongs to one of the "big three".  You know who they are are if you're a Veteran.  They are the ones fighting to say we shouldn't be able to hire attorneys to fight our appeals.   Her case is exactly WHY we should be able to hire attorneys.  If a service officer who works for free and doesn't know the law can't get it right, why not go to an attorney who knows the law, who will get paid to win our case?  But that's another blog and I don't want to get off track here.

Don't Ask Don't Tell recently under went some major changes.  You have to be living under a rock to not know that.  But I wonder .... how far back will this go?  I hope they Grandfather it.  I hope they grandfather it back for decades and upgrade a lot of discharges.  We've lost a lot of good service members because of homophobia.  Jane was one of them.  Jane, who served during Vietnam, who served in places you and I have never heard of and don't ever want to know about, was kicked out because she said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.  Trust me, Invisible Reader.  You don't want to know about the things Jane did or what she saw when she was in the Navy.  I've never asked her.  I've never asked any Veteran who served in combat what they've seen.  It isn't that I don't want to know.  It isn't that my head is in the sand.  It's a matter of respect.  If a combat Veteran wants to share that information, they will.  Most don't want to share unless it's with another combat Vet because if you haven't been there, you can't understand it.  I haven't been there.  I've read books.  I've seen films.  I've seen pictures.  I've heard stories.  I respect combat Veterans.  But look into their eyes.  Look deep and often you'll see the horror that is still playing there.  They don't want to talk about it.

Jane is my friend.  I respect her.  I hope that she gets what she deserves.  She put in her time just like the rest of us.  She's no different than me or you or any GI Jane walking down the street.  If you see a transgender Veteran, be sure to thank them for their service. 

Until the next time .......

Addendum added on 4/20/2010:

Hello again, Invisible Reader.  I don't usually go back into my blogs after I've posted them but I thought this was worth mentioning.  I received the following email today from Jane, the subject of this blog.  She's had another horrible experience at her VA Hospital.  If this isn't proof of outright prejudicial behavior than I don't know what is.  Read this email from Jane, Invisible Reader.  I'd also appreciate hearing your comments on this one.  Please either comment here on this site or send your comments to me directly at wendigoodman1958@gmail.com.  I'll be posting all comments so if you want to remain anonymous, please state that in your email to me. 

Wendi,

I made a series of phone calls yesterday and this morning. One call was to the nurse I usually talk to in (City A). I believe George is gay; well George has always been helpful to me in getting messages to my doctor and telling me the results of tests.

About two weeks ago a physical therapist lied to me and told me all I had was a badly pulled muscle in my lower back. Today George told me the results of an MRI I was given about a month ago- diagnosis- bulging DISK!!

I told the PHYSICAL THERAPIST that I'd need to come back for some time to keep the pain under control and he got REAL UPSET and said- "OH NO NO- you have the TENS UNIT now and I gave you the EXERCISES and thats all you need. I'm CLOSING YOUR CASE;" READ " I NEED TO GET RID OF YOU AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BECAUSE I'M A TRANSPHOBE!!!!!!!!!!"

Today I talked to a nurse in (City B) and I told her what this guy did and she said that was wrong. She put me back in the computer for more treatment.

THIS IS VA REGION X WHERE THE HOMOPHOBIA AND TRANSPHOBIA WILL STILL GET YOU TREATED POORLY OR NOT TREATMENT (sic) IF YOU'RE A VETERAN. THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO IS HAVE AN S.O. GO WITH YOU AND BE A WITNESS OTHERWISE YOU WILL GET FUCKED AND IT WONT BE WHERE YOU PREFER IT!!!!!!

JANE- LIVING IN FUCKING (INSERT STATE HERE) HELL

There you have it, Invisible Reader.  Comments?  Until the next time ....

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