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Transgender veterans as healthy as cisgender veterans, study finds

The study found demographic and economic differences between the two populations. Trans veterans experienced higher rates of poverty and less education and were less likely to be married or partnered compared to cisgender veterans.

The mental and physical health of transgender veterans is similar to cisgender veterans. The only difference was trans veterans had higher odds of having at least one disability, such as a debility in vision, cognition, mobility, self-care or independent living.

The study, Transgender and Cisgender US Veterans Have Few Health Differences, was published in Health Affairs and co-authored by Janelle Downing, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Kerith J. Conron, Blachford-Cooper distinguished scholar and research director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, Jody L. Herman, scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, and John R. Blosnich, research health scientist for the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

The study found demographic and economic differences between the two populations. Trans veterans experienced higher rates of poverty and less education and were less likely to be married or partnered compared to cisgender veterans.

In addition to veterans, researchers examined the health and well-being of trans and cisgender civilians and found transgender civilians were less likely to have health insurance and be employed. They had greater likelihood of not receiving primary care in the past year, delaying care because of cost and having multiple chronic conditions and depression compared to cisgender civilians.

“Disparities in education and poverty have been found to increase the risk of poor health,” said lead author Janelle Downing. “Those may be contributing to the poor health outcomes we observed in transgender civilians, but it was not true for trans veterans. It is possible that the veterans represent a particularly resilient subset of trans people.”

The study analyzed responses from 517,539 people living in 31 American states and Guam, who participated in the 2014-2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a nationally representative survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that collects state-level data on health, risk factors and sociodemographic characteristics of adults in the US.

According to the study, there are an estimated 163,000 transgender veterans in the US. Researchers found that overall, trans people (10.4%) served at similar rates compared to cisgender people (10.1%). However, trans people assigned male at birth were less likely to be veterans and those assigned female at birth were nearly five times more likely to be veterans compared to cisgender people.

But while – in March 2018 – the US Department of Defense issued a memorandum that states an intent to ban trans people with gender dysphoria from joining the military, the study found “no evidence to support the (Donald Trump) administration’s intent to ban trans people from serving in the military,” said study author Jody L. Herman. “On the contrary, the positive and long-term health outcomes of transgender veterans illustrate how well the existing criteria work to determine who is fit for military service.”

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