WASHINGTON -- Sex reassignment surgeries might soon be covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has proposed lifting its ban on the medical procedures, which treat a condition called gender dysphoria and allow a man to live as a woman or vice versa.
The department recently posted a notice and requested public comment on the White House's Office of Management and Budget website.
VA's effort to cover the transition-related surgeries comes as the military prepares to allow transgender troops to serve openly and President Barack Obama's administration wrangles with states over the rights of transgender people to use the restrooms of the their choice.
The VA says the surgical procedures were not deemed to be "medically necessary" in the past and there were questions over their safety and effectiveness.
"However, increased understanding of gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria," the VA wrote in the notice.
The department called it a serious medical condition with severe consequences for patients if treatment is not provided. Current VA rules prohibit the department from covering or performing any surgical procedures considered to be gender alterations.
Under federal guidelines, changes such as lifting of the VA ban are posted for comment before being executed.
In February, the Defense Department proposed adding non-surgical hormone therapy for gender dysphoria into the military's Tricare insurance coverage. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee shot back at the time, urging that the military not be an "experimental laboratory for social issues."
The changes could be laying the groundwork for the Pentagon's plan to allow transgender troops to serve openly. Defense Secretary Ash Carter set a deadline earlier this year for studying the issue but a final directive lifting the prohibition has not yet come.
Meanwhile, the country is struggling over rights for transgender people -- with the focus falling on public restrooms. Eleven states sued the Obama administration in May after it issued a directive to public schools that students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their chosen gender.
North Carolina triggered the directive when it led opposition to expanded rights by passing a state law requiring transgender residents to use the public restroom of their gender at birth.
Advocates estimate there could be as many as 15,000 transgender servicemembers, and the number could be much higher among the millions of veterans who use the VA.
The VA's proposal was lauded by the American Military Partner Association, which describes itself as the nation's largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families.
"So many veterans rely on the VA for important medical care that they have earned serving our nation, including transgender veterans," AMPA president Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. "Gender confirmation surgery is often a critically important and medically necessary treatment for transgender veterans, and lifting this ban is long overdue."