VA Pacific Islands Health Care System
Director's Message June 11, 2021
Pride Month is a special time of the year at VA. June is a month during which we openly and proudly recognize all the wonderful contributions of the LGBT and related-identities community throughout our nation’s rich history. This year’s Pride Month theme at VA is “United for Equality.” Veterans, service members, their families, and their allies are united in their love of service to our country. We have created, and are strengthening, a culture of inclusion, respect and compassion, through which every Veteran, and every person, is treated the same. We are united for equality.
There are about one million lesbian, gay and bisexual Veterans in the United States. We thank each and every one of them—and everyone who has worn the cloth of our nation—for their service and sacrifice. We want to provide those who choose to come to us for their health care needs safe, compassionate quality care, and I believe we do. I will also note that a significant portion of the VA workforce identifies as members of the LGBT and related-identities community themselves. According to the most recent All Employee Survey Results, nearly 8 percent of VA employees identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. And approximately half of 1 percent of the workforce identifies as transgender.
For far too long, many of our Service members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or related identities faced brazen discrimination or even worse—not just in our Armed Forces, but in their lives in general. They lived in fear. Fear of shunning, fear of violence, fear of having their lives turned upside down, and when it came to putting on the uniform and serving our country, they feared being denied this higher calling, simply because of who they are and who they love.
We have come a long way from the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and more recently, the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. I am proud that Americans of all gender identities and sexual identities now have the freedom to serve. Although there is still much work to be done, and the vestiges of this historical stigma remain, I am encouraged by the progress that has been made.
We know that diversity and inclusion yields strength and cohesiveness. We cannot maintain, and continue to build, the greatest military in the world unless we include and attract EVERYONE to serve, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Our differences make us better, and on an even more fundamental level, doesn’t everyone have the right to enter the profession of their choice? Each person is equal, and each person should be treated that way.
Even so, we must acknowledge the difficulties that many LGBT Veterans continue to experience. We know that members of the LGBT and related-identities community have unique health needs, and that each individual is different. Those who identify as members of the LGBT community are less likely to seek out routine care, largely because of a fear of discrimination. This can result in long-term adverse effects; LGBT Veterans experience mental health issues and suicidal thoughts at higher rates than those outside this community.
Here at VAPIHCS we strive to provide an atmosphere in which Veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities believe that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about all the issues they may be experiencing, from the physical to the mental, from the emotional to the spiritual, and everything in between. Establishing and maintaining a safe environment is something we are continuously focusing on. I am proud of the world class health care that VA provides, and the services we provide LGBT Veterans, but we strive to continuously improve. Ensuring that we continue to foster the best possible environment requires trust, from both patient and provider.
We recognize that some might be wary of sharing or talking about sexual orientation or gender identity and other unique issues with their health care provider. We understand that; we see you, we hear you. Please know that VA health care providers keep all information confidential. Each and every one of them has undergone rigorous training to ensure that all patient information is kept confidential, and if they violate this trust, they are violating the law and they will face serious consequences.
All this is to say that you can trust your provider to keep your conversations and records private. Rest assured that even if the way you identify is not known by your family and friends, your provider will never reveal it to them. By discussing all aspects of your identity with your health care provider, you can help them give you the best possible care for your personal needs.
Additionally, every VA medical facility has an LGBT Veteran care coordinator, (VCC) who can help you find the provider that will work best for you. If you do not know who your local LGBT VCC is, go to www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT . This VA website offers comprehensive information about the resources and support at our facilities and the one closest to you.
VAPIHCS has an accredited LGBT Health Postdoctoral Residency, 1 of 10 in the country. This fellowship position emphasizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) interprofessional health care for Veterans as a part of VA’s efforts to increase culturally and clinically appropriate care to LGBT Veterans. We offer LGBTQ-specific care in mental health, endocrine, whole health, and offer extensive care coordination. Our VCC is Dr. Mary Harlinger, 433-7348, she can also be reached using the secure message group “LGBT Care Coordination” and we have resources on our public website https://www.hawaii.va.gov/services/lgbt/index.asp.
Here at VA, we serve all Veterans, regardless of identity and what community they belong to. Every person who has worn the uniform deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
During LGBT Pride Month, we are proud of every person who has joined our Armed Forces, and for their service to the United States. We are united for equality. I wish everyone a wonderful rest of Pride Month, and encourage you to engage in Pride Month activities, with staff and Veterans, where possible.
May God continue to bless our troops, our Veterans, their families, and our wonderful country.
One Team, One Ohana!
Adam M. Robinson, Jr., MD, MBA, CPE
Director, VA Pacific Islands Health Care System
VADM, MC, USN, (RET)
36th Surgeon General, USN