Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston VA offers specialized LGBT Veteran care
June is designated as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, a national awareness initiative aimed at celebrating sexual diversity, advocating for equal rights for LGBT citizens and reducing social stigma surrounding the LGBT movement. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center proudly serves all Veterans, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, and seeks to communicate with LGBT Veterans about their unique health care needs and relevant services offered by VA through recently appointed LGBT Veteran Care Coordinators.
“Our main goal is working with our LGBT Veterans and partners in the community,” said Jenna Baddeley, a psychologist and one of Charleston VAMC’s LGBT Veteran Care Coordinators. “We want LGBT Veterans to know that this is a respectful, non-discriminatory environment and that the VA is a safe place for them to receive the health care they have earned.”
Baddeley and Kathie Hermayer, endocrinologist and LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator, work together to advocate for and assist LGBT Veterans and the VA staff who treat them. VA employees recently received training on transgender health care considerations and the VA now has a distinct program of care for transgender Veterans. In addition to primary care and mental health care, transgender Veterans can now receive evaluations for hormone therapy and receive their hormone prescriptions through VA. Charleston VAMC offers pre- and post-operation care for Veterans electing to have gender reassignment surgery, though the hospital does not currently perform the actual surgery or any cosmetic surgery related to the gender reassignment.
In recent years, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center has been named a leader in LGBT health care equality by the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Healthcare Equality Index (HEI). As a result of feedback from the HRC and in an effort to alleviate any discomfort LGBT Veterans many feel related to social stigma, the medical center encourages transgender Veterans to utilize the restrooms of the gender they identify as. In addition, Charleston VA offers Veterans and staff the option of using one of several gender-neutral restroom facilities, which help to strengthen the inclusive environment of care.
“Soon, VA will also be rolling out options for Veterans to include their self-identified gender, along with their birth sex, in their patient record,” Baddeley said. “Our medical support assistants will be trained on how to properly notate these preferences so VA staff and clinicians are aware and can fully respect the Veteran’s gender identity in interactions with them.”
Inclusivity considerations and protections also expand to employees at Charleston VAMC. Susan Storm, LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, assists with employment concerns and does outreach in the community to recruit LGBT applicants.
“We want to make sure that our teammates know where to go for support if they need it,” Storm said. “If LGBT staff experience any issues regarding their employment here, their co-workers, their work environment, or if they have equal employment opportunity (EEO) concerns, we are here to help.”
Storm also assists with the facility’s annual Diversity Day celebration, which this year will feature a prominent local transgender advocate who will share her story with VA staff. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the medical center’s Main Auditorium.
To be a positive voice for LGBT Veterans in the community, the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC has participated in Charleston’s Pride Parade for the last few years. This year is no different. The facility will have a float at the Charleston Pride 2017 parade planned for Saturday, Sept. 23 at 9 a.m. in Downtown Charleston. Storm solicits staff to ride the parade float and needs volunteers.
“The annual Charleston Pride parade is a great event that we are proud to support,” said Storm. “Our involvement shows local LGBT Veterans and potential VA employees that our medical center offers progressive care and is sensitive to the needs of all Veterans – that our VA serves all who served.”
Charleston VA employees interested in participating in the Charleston Pride parade or other LGBT initiatives and those needing assistance with employment issues can contact Susan Storm at 843- 789-7384.
LGBT Veterans with questions or concerns regarding their care at Charleston VAMC can contact the facility’s LGBT Care Coordinators directly to discuss their health care needs. Jenna Baddeley can be reached at 843-214-7030 and Kathie Hermayer can be reached at 843-792-2529.
Additional information regarding LGBT care options and services can be found at http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT.