Have you seen SAGE’s new blog? (It’s at http://blog.sageusa.org/) The Huffington Post has, yesterday reposting “Moving on From Hurricane Sandy: One Older Gay Man’s Story of Love and Loss” (at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/damien-wade/moving-on-hurricane-sandy_b_2677278.html)
The article is about James McCormick, 72, and his partner David Maxwell, 65, a couple of five years’ standing. James, a stroke survivor, was living safely in a nursing home when Hurricane Sandy hit Staten Island and drowned David in their home. The balance of the article, written by James’ SAGE Case Manager Damien Wade, talks about how a variety of agencies, officials, and individuals have come together to support James and help him bury David. Veterans Affairs not only paid for David’s burial (he was a Vietnam vet), but also paid for James’ transportation to the funeral and gave him the flag the Armed Forces and the President provided for David’s funeral. Today it hangs in James’ room at the nursing home.
SAGE is currently working to arrange transportation for James so he can attend SAGE programming at the Staten Island LGBT Community Center. Damien concludes, “Hurricane Sandy changed James’ life. It impacted us all. In times like these, we are reminded of the power in our communities when we band together to help one another.”
There are both practical and symbolic aspects to today’s end of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy requiring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to not come out in the military, or face discharge.
From an aging standpoint, the most important reason to applaud the policy change is that LGBT people are far more likely to be veterans than are heterosexual, non-transgender people. Although about 13% of adult Americans served in the military, unpublished data from the Caring and Aging with Pride national LGBT aging survey indicate that more than one-quarter of LGBT older adults are veterans. Although LGBT veterans are not denied Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, the existence of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell surely made it more difficult for them to push for benefits, services, or respect. The change should make their lives easier.
It is absolutely critical to note, however, that transgender service members are still not protected. Transgender people in the military who disclose their gender identity can still be discharged. Lest you think this can’t affect very many people, surveys are showing that high numbers of transgender people are military veterans. For instance, the Caring and Aging with Pride survey mentioned above found that 41% of transgender respondents were veterans, a rate 61% higher than the LGB respondents. The National Center on Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Injustice as Every Turn survey found that 54% of transgender respondents age 65 and up were veterans. Luckily, transgender veterans recently received a major assist from the Obama Administration, which issued new guidance requiring the VA to treat such veterans with respect. (To learn more, see the GrayPrideParade post of June 14, “New Transgender Veterans’ Health Care Guidelines.”)
Only one of the featured veterans is over 60 (70, to be specific), but advocates may still find of interest a recent OutFront article, “Home of the Brave: LGBT Veterans share their stories for Pride.”
Available at http://outfrontcolorado.com/ofcblog/news/home-of-the-brave-honoring-lgbt-veterans/, the simple but powerful article features black-and-white portraits and one-paragraph descriptions of five Colorado veterans. (It is important to note that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not protect transgender veterans.)
The Veterans Administration has issued a Directive to all of its facilities requiring them to provide respectful, confidential healthcare to transgender veterans, including providing hormones and mental health care.
In its fact sheet about the new Directive, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) correctly notes that not only is the new Directive “an important first step in securing equal access for transgender veterans,” but it also sets “an example of how healthcare providers in both the public and private sector should be treating transgender patients.” The main features of the new Directive, NCTE’s fact sheet continues, include:
- All VA staff are to provide care to transgender patients “without discrimination in a manner consistent with care and management of all Veteran patients;”
- States that all personal information about transgender status and medical care is to be kept confidential;
- A reiteration that, under existing regulations, sex reassignment surgery cannot be performed or paid for by the VA; and
- Reiterates that all other medically necessary healthcare for transgender veterans is covered, including sex-specific care like mammograms and pap smears, as well as transition-related care such as hormones and mental health services.