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Trans veterans, including one who tried to castrate herself with scissors, sue government to pay for sex-change ops

Former Army engineer Natalie Kastner says she has wanted gender affirming surgery since she was 16 years old. She says the Department of Veterans Affairs is endangering people's lives by not enacting a policy that allows the VA to provide and pay for the procedure.

Transgender veterans are suing the federal government to pay for their sex-change operations, which cost up to $130,000 each.

The Transgender American Veterans Association argues in its federal suit filed Thursday that Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has failed to make good on a promise made in 2021.

Those suing include Natalie Kastner, a 39-year-old disabled veteran from Texas who almost died when she hit an artery while trying to castrate herself with a pair of scissors.

The “failure to provide gender-confirmation surgery [that] puts transgender veterans at increased risk of physical harm, psychological distress and suicide,” the group’s lawsuit says.

There are about 150,000 living transgender veterans, and at least 10,000 receive some transition-related care, the group says. The VA already covers some treatments, including hormone therapy, at some of its facilities.

Without funding, transgender veterans are forced to either pay for the “often prohibitively expensive” procedures — costing between $50,000 to $130,000 — or continue to suffer from gender dysphoria, the group says.

Kastner, a parent of three, took drastic measures in March 2022 when unable to afford the $60,000 quoted for surgery.

She instead attempted to perform a self-orchiectomy — or surgical removal of the testicles — with a knife and scissors in a bathroom, almost dying after hitting an artery.

“I did not go into that bathroom looking to kill myself,” said Kastner. “I went into that bathroom looking to fix myself.

“I can only imagine how many others have done the same and have not been so lucky, and have simply been listed as a suicide.”

Kastner tried to get private insurance but was told none in Texas cover gender-confirmation surgery.

“These surgeries are really life-saving care,” Kastner told NBC News. “The VA, they say they serve those who have served, and those words seem hollow right now.”

The veterans’ group first pushed for the department to pay for sex-change operations in May 2016. In 2021, McDonough announced that the VA was “taking the first necessary steps to expand VA’s care to include gender confirmation surgery.”

“These surgeries are really life-saving care,” Kastner told NBC News. “The VA, they say they serve those who have served, and those words seem hollow right now.”

McDonough noted then that the process would take about two years.

The transgender group’s president, Rebekka Eshler, said the lawsuit was filed in Washington, DC on Thursday because the affected veterans could not keep holding out hope for help.

“Transgender veterans have waited far too long for the VA to provide the gender-affirming surgery so many of us need to survive,” Eshler said in a statement.

“We’re tired of empty promises; we need care.”

The court on Thursday ordered the VA to respond within 14 days.

The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to comment on pending litigation.

But Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said that the department aims “to provide transgender Veterans — and all Veterans — with the world-class care and benefits they deserve.

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