ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The U.S. military's Tricare health care system now covers transgender military family members and retirees, despite the official policy not yet going live, a top official said.
"I'm not going to wait for the final policy," Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, head of the Defense Health Agency, said in a wide-ranging interview with Military.com on Thursday atJoint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
"We're going to go ahead and do that because that's what our patients need," she said.
The policy, published for public comment in the Federal Register in February, will allow for hormone therapy and mental health counseling for "gender dysphoria," the clinical term for those who identify as a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth. Tricare is prohibited by law from covering sex-change surgery.
A ban on openly serving transgender troops was lifted by Defense Department officials in June. By Oct. 1, officials will issue a handbook for commanders and all those affected by the new policy, as well as medical guidance for providing transition care to transgender troops. As part of the new policy, military medical facilities will provide hormone treatment, counseling and sex-change surgery when deemed "medically necessary."
Bono said Tricare's official policy should go live by Oct. 1.
"DHA and the Tricare plan have been working hand in glove with the services so that we're able to roll this out in the same time frame," Bono said. "We'll be lock-step with what the services are doing. There should not be any lag; the whole goal is that we're going to make this as seamless as we can."
In the meantime, Bono said, Tricare is working with its regional contractors to grant approval for transgender treatment that will be covered under the new policy. If the contractor will not approve it, the admiral said she will do so herself.
"What I'm trying to do right now is give that approval level to the contractors, and if that's still not in place, then it comes up to me and I wave it," she said. "I don't think we need to wait for the actual policy to be signed and wait for the ink to be dried. It’s something we can do."
Advocates with the American Military Partner Association, which supports gay and transgender military families, said that families deserve care, regardless of their medical needs.
"All service members and their family members, including those who happen to be transgender, deserve access to quality medical care -- care they have earned serving our nation," said Ashley Broadway, AMPA's president. "We look forward to reviewing the new regulations and hope they provide the full range of appropriate and medically necessary care."