"Brave" is what one of Laura Kiewicz’s co-workers calls her. But, Kiewicz will tell you she's just being herself.
"For as long as I can remember, I always identified as female," Kiewicz said. "As a young child it was easy, but as a pre-teen and teenager it was more difficult for me and others to understand my feelings."
Kiewicz is a transgender female, registered nurse educator and manager of the newly formed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Committee at VA North Texas Health Care System. She's also a disabled Navy Veteran who receives VA health care and highly recommends VA to other Veterans in the LGBT community.
"VA has great health care and as it concerns the LGBT community, VA has made a lot of progress over the years," she said. "I salute VA for recognizing diversity and training staff to understand diversity as well."
In addition to the newly formed LGBT committee at VA North Texas, staff receives training on how to work with LGBT Veterans, and VA as a whole is reaching out with the latest campaign "We Serve All Who Served." VA welcomes all eligible Veterans to apply and start using the benefits they've earned.
Kiewicz said in her 11 years as a VA employee, she has never had a negative encounter with another employee or patient. Her journey hasn't always been easy. She recalls living half her days as male and the other half in private as female, but has fully transitioned to female physically and legally. Numerous consultations, evaluations, surgeries, lab tests, changing legal documents and even voice lessons are no comparison to the comfort she now feels every single day.
"I can finally be myself," Kiewicz said. "And that's something no one can ever take away from me."
Veterans in the LGBT community are entitled to the same health benefits as all Veterans.
Although VA does not perform or fund sex reassignment surgery, VHA Directive 2013-003 states "Transgender and intersex individuals are provided all care included in VA’s medical benefits package including, but not limited to: hormonal therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation, and medically necessary post-operative and long-term care following sex reassignment surgery…"
VA encourages all Veterans to be proactive in their health care.