Veterans Health Administration Takes Lead In Providing LGBT Healthcare

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the 2013 edition of its annual Healthcare Equality Index, which rates participating hospitals and clinics across the nation on their LGBT inclusion efforts. This year’s report shows record participation and progress, fueled in large part by the support of the Veterans Health Administration. Nearly 80 percent of VA hospitals chose to demonstrate their commitment to LGBT health by participating in the index, and of these, 76 percent earned the designation of being a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.

To be a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality, health facilities must demonstrate that they have clearly-communicated nondiscrimination policies explicitly protecting patients, their visitors, and employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and high-level administrators must be trained in LGBT patient-centered care. HRC provides free online training sessions for administrators and staff at all levels.

The Veterans Health Administration has been taking steps over the last several years to promote the health of LGBT veterans, including LGBT-inclusive policies and the formation of an LGBT work group following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This work group recommended VA participation in the Healthcare Equality Index to ensure that each local facility was complying fully with VA system-wide policies and actively working to improve LGBT cultural competency. Shane Snowdon, Director of HRC’s Health and Aging Program and author of the report, commended the VA for its commitment to LGBT health at Thursday’s press conference, which was held at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is the largest integrated health care network in the country, and Snowdon says she hopes other large networks will follow the VA’s example.

There are even further signs of progress beyond the VA’s praiseworthy efforts. This is the first year in the history of the Healthcare Equality Index that there has been participation from facilities in all 50 states, up from 32 last year. Additionally, the proportion of rated facilities with protections based on gender identity has risen dramatically over the past four years.

HRC is continuing to expand the Healthcare Equality Index in order to spur change. This year, they asked 31 additional questions about best practices for LGBT care beyond the requirements for Leader designation and provided facilities with customized feedback. Next year, in addition to soliciting voluntary participation, HRC will begin rating hospitals and clinics that have not chosen to participate. This will help more LGBT people across the country find information about their health care options and put pressure on hospitals and clinics to provide the high-quality health care LGBT Americans deserve.

Hannah Slater is an intern with LGBT Progress.