Our country’s Veteran population is constantly changing. We now have more women Veterans than ever before, and Veterans have become increasingly more racially and ethnically diverse.
One thing hasn’t changed, however – the importance of ensuring that Veterans receive high-quality, timely health care. At the core of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a mission to provide world-class health care to all our nation’s eligible Veterans. This mission includes ensuring that LGBTQ+ Veterans get the health care they deserve.
We all deserve health care that makes us feel safe, comfortable and heard.
LGBTQ+ Veterans may not feel like this has always been the case. For years, LGBTQ+ patients have faced disparities within the health care system. According to data from the Centers for American Progress, LGBTQ+ people routinely avoid health care for fear of discrimination. LGBTQ+ patients discuss being denied services and facing harassment from medical professionals. Experiences like this can make accessing health care challenging.
We all deserve health care that makes us feel safe, comfortable and heard. As an LGBTQ+ patient, it’s important to understand the health concerns that may impact you, as well as your rights and the type of care you should expect in order to live a full and healthy life.
An important aspect of anyone’s health and wellness is understanding the health concerns that may be of particular importance to you. According to studies by the National Library of Medicine, there are certain health concerns that affect LGBTQ+ patients, such as:
- An elevated risk for stress
- An increased risk for substance abuse disorders
- An increased risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Higher rates of certain cancers, such as breast and cervical cancers
- Higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
- Higher rates of obesity and eating disorders
Talking to Your Health Care Provider
Because of the health concerns listed above, having an open and honest dialogue with your health care provider is an important step in maintaining good health. For some, it may feel like a difficult conversation or one that you don’t think you’re ready to have, but here are some reasons why it’s important to consider:
- Important health screenings may be missed
- Assessments and services for your risk for sexually transmitted diseases may not be recommended
- Effective mental health treatment related to stigma and discrimination you’ve experienced may go unsuggested
Information about your sexual orientation or gender identity may prompt certain questions, advice and discussions between you and your health care provider. When you have an open and honest relationship, you can discuss the medicines you’ve taken, any surgeries you’ve had and give a fuller picture of your health history so that you can get the best health care possible.
If you aren’t comfortable opening up to your current health care provider, or if you’ve faced discrimination or felt unheard, consider switching providers. You deserve high-quality, timely care that makes you feel safe and heard.
Your Health Care Rights
VA policies require that your health care is delivered in “an affirming and inclusive environment,” and that VA employees respect your identity.
- You cannot be denied services or benefits at VA because of your identity.
- VA’s care policy prohibits discrimination based on personal characteristics including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
- At VA, LGBTQ+ captures identities beyond lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. The “+” includes but is not limited to questioning, pansexual, asexual, agender, gender diverse, nonbinary and other identities.
If you receive health care outside of VA, you are still protected by law. The Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity. To learn more about your rights and protections you have, and for additional resources, check out Protecting the Rights of LGBTQ+ People through the Office for Civil Rights.
To assist with your health care needs, there is an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator (VCC) in every VA health care system. A VCC can:
- Answer your questions
- Advocate for your right to quality care
- Handle complaints or concerns you have about your care
- Help you get started with services
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers health information for specific populations including gay and bisexual men, transgender persons and more.
- Make the Connection offers personal stories from LGBTQ+ Veterans about the decision to share their identity with their health care providers, as well as information on why it’s an important part of your health and wellness journey, answers to frequently asked questions and links to other helpful resources.
- VA offers fact sheets specific to different populations including transgender, nonbinary, lesbian, gay and many more. These fact sheets include reasons to come out to your health care provider, health risks to be aware of and more.
We all deserve to feel our best. Understanding relevant health concerns as well as your patient rights and the services you should expect can help you get the health care you deserve.