Veteran Affairs’ data on LGBT military veterans not consistent
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) isn’t consistently collecting data on the sexual orientation or self-identified gender identity of LGBT military veterans.
In a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) can’t systematically analyze the health of LGBT veterans to identify their most common health conditions.
Inconsistent data collection of LGBT members
The VHA analyzes national-level data by birth sex to assess outcomes of health for military veterans. However, their assessment of LGBT veterans is limited because of their inconsistent data collection.
This is because veteran health care providers may record veterans’ sexual orientation in non-standardized clinical notes in electronic health records.
Because of this, VHA doesn’t know the total number of LGBT veterans in its system. According to the VA, 89% of veterans’ records don’t have gender identity data.
Christina Noel, a spokesperson for VA, said their updated its Survey of Healthcare Experiences of Patients Program to include questions asking veterans to self-report their sexual orientation and gender identity this July.
“Every VA medical center has LGBT Veteran Care Coordinators and VA offers extensive educational resources for staff on the unique health care needs of these veterans,” Noel said.
The ‘disappearance’ of non-male military personnel
VHA officials admitted the absence of a standardized sexual orientation field in their health record system, the Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS), is because the system was originally designed to serve mainly men.
Back then, the military still had a ban on openly gay or lesbian personnel in service. The policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was only overturned in 2010.
Without consistent data collection, health providers can’t give appropriate care, which could affect the health outcomes of LGBT veterans.
One example cited was that lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans risk a higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts as compared to their straight peers.
What’s more, VHA also had a problem to provide sufficient sex-specific services and an environment of care that’s sensitive to the privacy needs of women.
The problem faced by LGBT military veterans
The non-standardized documentation system also puts LGBT veterans at risk from discrimination by health care providers.
This was the warning aired by Jennifer Dane, a former Air Force intelligence analyst and the interim executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, a LGBTQ veteran rights advocacy organization.
Meanwhile, Stacie Walls-Beegle, the executive director of the LGBT Life Center in Norfolk, said LGBT veterans who have been to VA “feel ostracized, and they feel like their identities are neglected.”
VHA has also acknowledged that LGBT veterans can face barriers to equitable health care, as well as stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence.
Dane admitted that VHA has made some progress. In 2012, the VA created the LGBT Health Program to support personalized health care for LGBT veterans.