In December 2021, VA began including gender identifiers and preferred names in its national medical record system. The gender identity field in the medical record now includes transgender male, transgender female, non-binary, other or does not wish to disclose options. It is a welcome change for transgender and gender diverse Veterans.

“This change is going to eliminate a lot of anxiety for transgender Veterans,” said Deedee Fulcher, a Marine Corps Veteran and transgender female who served for 12 years. “It can be very stressful to be sitting in the lobby and have somebody yell out what we as transgender people call our dead name, the name we used to have.”

“The inclusion of gender identity in the medical record is a simple, yet extremely powerful and validating change,” explained Blaine Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker at Southeast Louisiana VA.

“It’s helpful mentally to be called by the gender you prefer,” said Shane Williams, Navy Veteran and transgender male. “Everyone wants recognition in the sense that we matter,” Fulcher agreed.

Establishes trust between Veterans and providers

Using the correct identity markers also establishes trust between Veterans and their providers.

Courtney Bounds is a social worker at Southeast Louisiana VA. She explained that the change to include gender identity in the medical record is an invitation to have the conversations that are necessary for mental health clinicians to provide appropriate care to patients.

“Asking questions about gender identity,” Bounds says, “helps begin the rapport building process. It helps providers avoid misgendering Veterans. That can be an intense emotional experience for Veterans whose gender identity has likely been a source of pain and distress.”

Gender identity can also be essential information for accurate mental health treatment. For example, Bounds explains that if a transgender or gender diverse person seeks help for relational problems, the social worker will have a better chance of helping if that patient speaks openly about their gender identity.

“This is a very positive change.”

Dana Walker is a primary care physician and co-LGBTQ+ Veteran care coordinator. She explains that the inclusion of gender identity and preferred names in the medical health record should help with the emotional fatigue that many transgender and gender diverse patients experience as a result of needing to continuously assert their identity.

“This is a very positive change,” Walker said. “We want to make sure that nothing stands between Veterans and the health care they deserve.”

The addition of gender identity in the health record will go a long way toward making transgender and gender diverse Veterans feel accepted and have meaningful conversations with their providers.

“It’s nice to hear the correct pronoun and be recognized for who you are,” Williams agreed. “We just want to live our authentic lives. We want that small piece of peace.”

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