LGBT veterans describe VA care, give advice to others


This is the first part of a two-part series on VA care for veterans with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and related identities. The second part will take place on June 8, 2021.

Navy veteran Marilu Fanning and Army veteran Dylan Liebhart have been on different journeys in life. Different formations, generations and military services. Yet the two share a passion for helping fellow veterans receive the care they deserve. They have advice for their LGBT colleagues and veteran related identities.

Military service

Fanning entered the Navy upon graduating from high school in 1970. She served as a shore-based enlistment on the East Coast.

Fanning poses for a photo during training camp.

“Somehow, I was lucky to never have been in any danger, but there was also no adventure or visit to the world,” he said. she declared.

Liebhart came from a Catholic family and joined the military in 2002. He served just over seven years in the military police at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Riley, Kansas. Liebhart also deployed to Iraq for 15 months from September 2006 to December 2007. Serving during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Liebhart was unable to reveal his sexual orientation.

“There was one occasion where someone casually mentioned my sexuality, and I was told in plain language that if my command sergeant major heard about it again, I would be out of the military,” he said.

LGBT Travel

Fanning said she was “ignorant” of her sex and sexuality issues until she was already married. She said she had taken a slow journey of self-discovery.

“I really didn’t accept the truth of who I was until my two kids grew up,” she said.

She became a woman in 2006. In 2015, she turned to VA for care.

At the time, a female Liebhart told a close high school friend about her sexuality. The reception was poor, forcing Liebhart to return to the closet. Liebhart lived as a lesbian for many years, marrying another lesbian. Liebhart reached a point of accepting the truth: she was not a woman.

“I thought I was fine,” Liebhart said. “But over time, I came to see that who I was didn’t match the container I was standing in. I introduced myself to my family and close friends as a trans man in my 30s and quickly began the transition process. ”

Now fully in surgical transition, Liebhart has said he leads “a full and honest existence.” He and his lesbian wife still have a happy marriage.

Liebhart in Iraq.

Liebhart in Iraq.

Service at VA

For Fanning, she is a fan of her service at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital outside of Chicago.

“For me, my VA experience has been entirely positive,” Fanning said. “Everyone at Hines treats me with the same respect as everyone, whether I’m here for a regular appointment or as an admitted patient.”

Fanning used several health care services. This includes hormone therapy, group therapy, and speech therapy. She said speech therapy has been particularly helpful, especially as a tall transgender woman with a deep voice.

“Having tried to affect a ‘female voice’ for so long on my own, and never having had any real success, I had pretty much given up on being able to develop one in this lifetime,” Fanning said. “But the prospect of having access to real professional vocal coaching was definitely an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Results

Fanning said that although therapy challenges her, the results have boosted her confidence.

“After years of unsuccessfully trying to speak on my own in a more feminine voice, I discovered how difficult it was,” she said. “Even with professional advice, it was not easy. It took six to eight months of frustration before it started to have any success. Then these improvements came in small, if not subtle, increments. These days I stay in what is now my real voice most of the time, all day long, with some slippage. Finally, my voice has become a true vocal representation of who I am.

Liebhart recounted his experience to Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, was positive.

“I found Truman VA to be very accepting,” he said. “The environment is an environment of openness and general inclusion. This does not mean that the providers themselves are always inclusive, but it gives hope that one can find one that will be. “

Advice to others

Fanning, who has received healthcare for years outside of VA, said she encourages all veterans, including LGBT people, to use VA.

“I find Hines to be top notch and much better than any private sector care I have ever received,” she said.

Liebhart said that, like any health care system, finding the right provider is critical.

“For example, when I contacted my primary care provider to start HRT, I received absolute support and advice,” he said. “In fact, every step of the transition process was made easier by the support of various vendors.”

He said VA providers are not always ready to treat transgender patients.

“I shocked an EKG technician’s pants once when I took off my shirt, and he couldn’t pull himself together easily,” he said. Liebhart also said providers did not always agree on action plans due to their inexperience with transgender care. He said his best advice to others is to stand up for the care they deserve.

“I would tell other LGBT veterans to be bold in their defense of themselves and not to become complacent or repressed by accepting less than they deserve,” he said. “They need to be open and honest with their providers, so that they can receive the highest quality care, because a doctor can’t help you when you give them half the truth. Assume good intentions from your suppliers, and if you encounter fewer, use your resources. The Patient Advocate, LGBT Coordinator, and Safe Zone allies are great support systems. “

Fanning added that she found the care of non-LGBT veterans to be as good as the care of LGBT veterans. Liebhart also encourages non-LGBT veterans to treat others with respect and to be open.

“Be respectful,” he said. “We are all human and deserve our dignity. If you are curious about something, ask.

Resources for LGBT Veterans and Related Identities

There is an LGBT VCC at every facility to help Veterans get the care they need. Find a facility at https://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/VAFacilities.asp.

VA health care includes, among other services:

  • Hormonal therapy
  • Substance use / alcoholism treatment
  • Treatment of tobacco use
  • Fertility assessments
  • Treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections / PrEP
  • Reducing intimate partner violence and treating sequelae
  • Heart health
  • Cancer screening, prevention and treatment
  • Suicide prevention programs

Learn about the health risks and speak with a provider about sexual orientation identity, sex at birth, and self-identified gender identity in the factsheets below.

Learn about the resources and support available for veterans who have faced challenges related to exiting as someone with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or related identity.


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