Transgender Vets Group Launches Here
Purpose Is To Support Equitable Health Care And Services For
Journal :: FRONT :: A8
Monday, May 8, 2006
BRENDA INGERSOLL email@example.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."
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
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
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.
The toll-free number
Trans Hotline of
America is 1-877-427-3230.