Clinic Lawsuit Challenges VA Denial of Gender-Affirming Surgery

Seal of the VA

Today, the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) filed a second federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), challenging VA’s denial of TAVA’s 2016 rulemaking petition requesting gender-affirming surgery. VA’s denial comes after nearly eight years of delay — and after nearly three years of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough publicly promising to provide the care it requested. TAVA’s lawsuit contends that VA’s refusal to provide necessary medical care reneges on its public promise and violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Constitution, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. 

TAVA is represented in the lawsuit by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

TAVA’s lawsuit challenges VA’s denial of its rulemaking petition, which maintains its refusal to provide gender-affirming surgery at VA. The lawsuit follows an earlier one filed by TAVA in January 2024, which sought a court order that VA act on TAVA’s 2016 rulemaking petition requesting gender-affirming surgery. In response, VA breached its commitment to make gender-affirming surgery available by denying TAVA’s petition.

“TAVA will not stand idly by as VA continues to discriminate against and breaks its promises to transgender veterans,” said Josie Caballero, Acting President of TAVA. “VA’s refusal to provide gender-affirming surgery is an affront to the dignity and well-being of transgender veterans. Gender-affirming surgery is not a choice for many transgender individuals — it’s often a critical part of our care that healthcare professionals consider medically necessary. Denying us access to these puts our lives at risk.”

“It is an insult to transgender veterans who have served our country honorably, only to be denied the same healthcare services other veterans receive,” said Bekky Eshler, President of TAVA. “Transgender veterans are entitled to equal treatment. We deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. It is well past time for the VA to ensure that all veterans have access to the complete slate of healthcare services they need and deserve. TAVA is not giving up this fight, and VA is not off the hook.”

VA’s denial endangers the health and well-being of many of the nation’s 163,000 transgender veterans, according to the filing. In its lawsuit, TAVA explains that gender-confirmation surgery dramatically reduces the risks of suicidal ideation, depression, and psychological distress for transgender people who live with gender dysphoria. For years, medical professionals, scientific researchers, veterans service organizations, civil rights groups, former military officials, and political figures in both local and federal governments have urged VA to provide adequate gender-affirming care, which includes gender-confirmation surgery.

“Why has Secretary McDonough turned his back on the thousands of veterans who have been denied life-saving health care their VA doctors recommend?” said Jack Baisley ’25, a law student intern with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “VA has a legal responsibility to provide comprehensive and inclusive healthcare to all veterans, regardless of gender identity. There is no good excuse for VA’s refusal to provide transgender veterans access to equal care. By denying transgender veterans access to gender-affirming surgery, VA is failing to fulfill its duty to those who have served our country.” 

The lawsuits ask the courts to review VA’s denial of TAVA’s 2016 rulemaking petition and direct VA to provide gender-affirming surgery.

Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) is a nationwide, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to ensure its members receive full services and dignified treatment from the VA and to provide a supportive community for all veterans who identify under the “Transgender Umbrella.” 

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which represents the petitioner, is part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School.