Communication Between VA Providers and Sexual and Gender Minority Veterans: A Pilot Study

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Abstract

Approximately one million gay and lesbian Americans are veterans, and rates of engagement in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system may be increasing for both sexual and gender minority veterans. Very little research has examined the experience of these veterans when receiving care at VA health care facilities. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences, beliefs, and preferences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) veterans in their communication with VA health care providers. LGBT veterans (n = 58) participated in focus groups or individual interviews and completed self-report measures at two southern VA hospitals. Approximately 2/3 of veterans report that none of their VA providers have specifically asked about their sexual orientation, and 24% of the veterans indicate that they have not disclosed their orientation to any VA provider. Although some veterans want providers to initiate these discussions, veterans also expressed fears about disclosure and its possible negative consequences. Similarly, LGBT veterans report varied opinions about the appropriateness of routine assessment of minority status. Only 28% of these veterans experience VA as welcoming to them as LGBT veterans. Systematic training is needed for all VA providers about the rationale for assessing sexual and gender orientation. Staff education should include specific skills for initiating these assessments, and ways of responding to veteran concerns about discussing this topic in the VA health care system.

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