ABOVE: Rep. Chris Pappas (L), has introduced the SERVE Act to aid transgender troops. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
In the wake of the Trump administration implementing its ban on transgender military service, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. House that seeks to ensure service members discharged under the policy are eligible for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Securing the Rights our Veterans Earned Act, or SERVE Act, requires the VA to provide health benefits to these troops if they obtain an “Other Than Honorable” or “Entry-Level Separation” discharge because of their gender identity.
Further, the legislation ensures coverage to gay veterans expelled under the now defunct policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who haven’t had their discharge papers corrected.
Pappas, who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said a statement the legislation would aid LGBT veterans as LGBT advocates continue the fight to lift the transgender ban and expedite the process for upgrading the papers for discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As we work to improve care for veterans and combat the national crisis of veteran suicide, we cannot forget the more than 15,000 transgender service members and veterans whose benefits may be at risk because of this administration’s discriminatory transgender ban and those left behind by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in years past.” Pappas said. “As we fight to reverse this Administration’s backwards ban, I am proud to introduce legislation that will help protect our LGBTQ veterans and ensure they are able to access the care they need. It’s the least we can do given their selfless service to our country.”
The original co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), chair or the Congressional Transgender Task Force, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.), Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.).
“The bias and bigotry of this president should not be used to deny health care to any LGBTQ veteran who has served this nation,” Kennedy said in a statement. “By passing the SERVE Act, we will protect transgender veterans until the day we overturn this cruel, misguided ban on transgender troops.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs currently has a policy against payment for gender reassignment surgery. A Democratic aide said the SERVE Act wouldn’t change the care VA currently offers, but instead simply extend those benefits to those being denied that care because of their discharge status.
Andy Blevins, executive director of the newly formed Modern Military Association of America, commended lawmakers for introducing the SERVE Act in a statement.
“Introduction of this Act signals to our nation’s LGBTQ veteran community that our nation’s Congressional leadership stands alongside them and their honorable service,” Blevins said. “We applaud Congressman Pappas and the cohort of leaders that signed on to co-sponsor this tremendous piece of legislation; we look forward to working alongside each of them as we solidify equitable treatment and conditions for all of our nation’s deserving veterans.”
A Senate companion to the legislation isn’t yet introduced.