T ransgender A merican
V eterans A ssociation



Transgender Vets Group Launches Here

Its Purpose Is To Support Equitable Health Care And Services For Transgender Vets.

Wisconsin State Journal :: FRONT :: A8


Monday, May 8, 2006
BRENDA INGERSOLL bingersoll@madison.com 608-252-6144 

A Wisconsin chapter of the Transgender American Veterans Association is just getting under way, planning to support equitable health care and services for transgender veterans and all veterans who are members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.  

The fledgling nonprofit group held a fundraiser March 17 at the Shamrock Bar that raised $100, and 17 people attended an organizational meeting March 25.  

"We have 10 (Wisconsin) members at present," said Ann Marie Knittel of Madison, TAVA national chapters director and an Army veteran who had surgery to become a woman in 2000. She was discharged from the Army in 1974.  

"Our goal is to ensure that health care and other services are delivered to veterans with courtesy and respect," she said, "just like every other veteran gets, and to cooperate with other veterans service organizations."  

Nationwide, TAVA has about 200 members, said national vice president Angela Brightfeather of Apex, N.C., who was born male, but lives as a woman.  

The group's mission "is to obtain equal treatment for transgender vets in accordance with (Veterans Administration) guidelines and to update them to make them more equal for transgender vets," she said.

"We find a tremendous amount of inequality from one VA (facility) to another. We're finding that hormone treatments for transitioning veterans are covered in some areas, but not in others."  

The VA does not provide services or benefits for gender-alteration surgery, said agency spokesman Terry Jemison.  

But VA facilities will provide counseling and hormones for someone who already has undergone gender reassignment, Jemison said. A guiding principle is to provide "clinically indicated services based on the judgment of the provider," he said, adding, "We tend not to dictate the art of medicine from Washington."

Brightfeather said persuading the VA to cover sex reassignment surgery is a long-term goal that's "going to take a lot of education."  

"There are individuals in the VA system that understand ... and will give some care, but they're not encouraged to do so by the VA," Brightfeather said. "Prior to TAVA, there was no recognition that there were any transgender vets, but the fact is, they exist in great numbers in the military."  

Jolie McKenna of Wisconsin Rapids is one of TAVA Wisconsin's new members. Although she's not a veteran, she wants to support transgender veterans.  

McKenna, 44, was born male and is transitioning to female. McKenna started living as a woman and taking hormones a year ago. She is undergoing a divorce after a 20-year marriage that produced four children, and "came out" at work just last January. She's been a probation agent since 1995. Her co-workers and boss were very supportive, she said.  

She joined TAVA because Knittel, who has been a great support to her, asked her to. "I want to contribute to TAVA. If I can help anybody get in touch with resources, I would be glad to help," McKenna said. "This is a very dangerous condition to have. You do reach a crisis point where it's suicide, or live. We've lost a lot of us (to suicide). If I can be a resource for people who reach that point, that would be great."

 She added, "Many transgender people join the military, thinking it will make a man of them, or get married for the same reason, and when it all falls apart, that's devastating. ... It's been an issue through my whole life. I knew when I was very young, 5 or 6. I wish my parents had recognized it. I never got the ballet lessons I wanted or the Barbie doll. Not to be maudlin, but it's true. All through high school, I had tons of girlfriends, and it's because I speak their language."  

Nikki Baumblatt of OutReach, Madison's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community center, said there are close to 100 transgender people in Madison "who are having questions about their gender identity. High school students are starting to feel safe saying, hey, I'm in the wrong body."  

Today there are support systems for transgender people that didn't exist 10 years ago, Baumblatt said. "A veteran might feel safer going to this group. ... Like gays and lesbians, there are lots of transgender people still not out of the closet," she said.


For help

The toll-free number for

Trans Hotline of America is 1-877-427-3230.




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