The Pentagon has lifted the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in the military and announced that it will pay for current members of the armed forces to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
In San Antonio, Military City USA, transgender veterans hope the ruling will mean more medical benefits for them.
Antonia Celeste Padilla is still legally a man, but her Department of Veterans Affairs ID card identifies her as a woman.
Padilla joined the U.S. Air Force in 1978.
“I joined primarily because I was an Air Force brat,” Padilla said. “My dad had been a lifer in the military and I thought, ‘Hey, this will be a good thing for me to do because it will make a man out of me.’”
After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, being stationed at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and another four years, she felt like she didn't fit in. Padilla left the military and started her transition in her mid-40s.
In her day, being openly transgender in the military would have meant being discharged. She's grateful that a younger generation of transgender Americans don't have to sacrifice a military career for their gender identity.
“It's a mirror of society today. I think the fact that marriage equality was enacted last year and now this lift of a ban of transgender service, I think it really reflects where this country is headed,” she said.
Thursday’s decision has been in the works for years. Since 2011, Veterans Affairs has paid for transgender services for veterans.
A statement on the VA’s website says, in part:
VA provides health care for transgender patients, including those who present at various points on their transition from one gender to the next. This applies to all veterans who are enrolled in the VA’s health care system or are otherwise eligible for VA care, including those who have had sex reassignment surgery outside of VHA, those who might be considering such surgical intervention, and those who do not wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but self-identify as transgender. Intersex individuals may or may not have interest in changing gender or in acting in ways that are discordant with their assigned gender. VA does not provide sex reassignment surgery.
In Padilla’s case, the VA pays for weekly estrogen shots and a doctor who monitors how her body responds to the hormones.
Padilla has not had gender reassignment surgery. She said that it’s expensive and hopes that Thursday’s change will one day mean that the VA will pay for at least a portion of the surgery for veterans. In the meantime, she says the VA has treated her with dignity and respect.
“They're competent, they're knowledgeable and, more importantly, they're compassionate about what they do,” Padilla said. “It's quite a pleasure to walk in to see a nurse or a doctor and hear them say, ‘Antonia, how’s it going,’ because most people would not address me so warmly.”