The Department of Veterans Affairs will modify its healthcare policy to cover gender-affirming surgery for veterans who are transgender, CNN first reported.
A spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed the news to CNN. The agency did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Saturday.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is expected to make the announcement at a Pride month event at the Orlando Vet Center in Florida on Saturday, the spokesperson told CNN.
The announcement will mark the first step in what could be a lengthy process that will involve making changes to existing federal policy.
“There are several steps to take, which will take time,” McDonough prepared remarks state, according to the outlet. “But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to Veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”
There are about 134,000 transgender veterans in the US, according to an estimate from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Gender-affirming surgery has “been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and dysphoria,” a VA Department spokesperson told CNN.
“We are taking the first necessary steps to expand VA’s care to include gender confirmation surgery — thus allowing transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough is expected to say later Saturday, according to CNN.
Gender-affirming surgery includes procedures that make a person’s “physical body matches their gender identity,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Procedures included facial reconstructive surgery, “top” surgery, and “bottom” surgery.
Just one gender-affirming surgery, like vaginoplasty or “bottom” surgery for a trans woman, can cost over $50,000, as Insider previously reported.
As CNN reported, the current VA health insurance package allows trans people to seek mental health counseling and to receive hormone therapy but it does not pay for gender-affirming surgeries.
McDonough in February ordered a review of the agency’s policies relating to trans people to ensure “transgender Veterans and employees do not face discrimination on the basis of their gender identity and expression.”
The Trump administration sought to ban transgender people from serving in the US Military, though the Biden administration rescinded that policy in January.