Transgender veterans as healthy as cisgender vets, UofSC study finds

Transgender veterans differ only on the likelihood of having at least one disability

A new study finds that the mental and physical health of transgender veterans is similar to cisgender veterans. Transgender veterans had higher odds of having at least one disability, such as a debility in vision, cognition, mobility, self-care or independent living. 

The study did find demographic and economic differences between the two populations. Transgender veterans experienced higher rates of poverty and less education and were less likely to be married or partnered compared to cisgender veterans. 

In addition to veterans, researchers examined the health and well-being of transgender and cisgender civilians and found transgender civilians were less likely to have health insurance and be employed. They had greater likelihood of not receiving primary care in the past year, delaying care because of cost and having multiple chronic conditions and depression compared to cisgender civilians.

“Disparities in education and poverty have been found to increase the risk of poor health,” says lead author Janelle Downing, assistant professor of health services policy and management at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. “Those may be contributing to the poor health outcomes we observed in transgender civilians, but it was not true for transgender veterans. It is possible that the veterans represent a particularly resilient subset of transgender people.”

The study analyzed responses from 517,539 people living in 31 states and Guam, who participated in the 2014-2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a nationally representative survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that collects state-level data on health, risk factors and sociodemographic characteristics of adults in the U.S.

According to the study, there are an estimated 163,000 transgender veterans in the U.S. Researchers found that overall, transgender people (10.4 percent) have served at similar rates compared to cisgender people (10.1 percent). However, transgender people assigned male at birth were less likely to be veterans and those assigned female at birth were nearly five times more likely to be veterans compared to cisgender people.

In March 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a memorandum, which states an intent to ban transgender people with gender dysphoria from joining the military. There are currently four federal court injunctions temporarily blocking the ban.

“Our study found no evidence to support the current administration’s intent to ban transgender people from serving in the military,” says study author Jody L. Herman, a public policy scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. “On the contrary, the positive and long-term health outcomes of transgender veterans illustrate how well the existing criteria to determine who is fit for military service.”

The study, Transgender and Cisgender US Veterans Have Few Health Differences, was published in Health Affairs and co-authored by Janelle Downing, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Kerith J. Conron, Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar and Research Director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, Jody L. Herman, scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute and John R. Blosnich, research health scientist for the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

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