A Tucson, Arizona, Veterans Affairs hospital is taking a step toward assuring proper health care for all U.S. veterans. Transgender veterans who need trans-specific health care can now access a clinic at the Tucson VA that will address the needs of this underserved population, NPR reports. The Tucson clinic joins one in Cleveland as the only two standalone centers for transgender U.S. veterans, though trans people can access services at other VA hospitals.
Sonia Perez-Padilla is in charge of Tucson VA hospital's transgender clinic and its staff, which includes mental health professionals, pharmacists and social workers.
"We have been flooded with phone calls since we've announced that the clinic will be opening — patients from all over wanting to know about it, to be able to take advantage of this opportunity," Perez-Padilla told NPR.
The Veterans Health Administration's 2011 Transgender Healthcare Directive stated that all VA hospitals had to begin to provide care for transgender veterans. While Tucson's VA hospital has offered trans services since then, the standalone clinic has expanded the services they are able to offer, which now includes a peer support group.
"The transgender support group gives us an outlet where we can talk about things that we need to talk about — such as clothing, makeup — you know, how to dress, how to act," Sue McConnell, a transgender veteran, told NPR.
Transgender people cannot openly serve in the U.S. military. However, in July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the U.S. military will review all guidelines that bar transgender Americans from military service. Earlier this year, Chelsea Manning became the first transgender person in military history to get access to hormones while in military prison.
While some people, including 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson, believe the U.S. military should not allow transgender soldiers, the Tucson VA hospital is addressing a pressing need for transgender people, who have some of the worst health outcomes of any U.S. population.
"If a veteran has an onset of cancer or a heart condition and needs a transplant — anything that might arise after they've served, we take care of it," Perez-Padilla told NPR. "We serve all who have served."