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VA Records Used For Taxpayer-Funded Study Of Transgenders

By allowing the use of its electronic medical records, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is set to cooperate with a study funded by the National Institutes of Health to the tune of $189,186 dollars. The study examines transgender mortality rates.

Emory University received the award from the National Institutes of Health to embark on a longitudinal study looking at both the short-term and long-term health of transgender individuals who have either taken hormones or undergone gender reassignment surgery.

The importance of this study stems from the methodology. Previous research has focused on small focus group samples, but by accessing national medical records from the VA and health care system Kaiser Permanente, Emory’s forthcoming study will “likely be the largest cohort of transgender individuals available to date, and the first study of its kind conducted in the United States.” In addition to the longitudinal aspect, focus groups are also included in the study design.

Emory University is primarily interested in answering the question: are transgender individuals at a higher risk of death, as compared to similar non-transgender individuals? Do transgender individuals contract certain diseases at a higher rate?

The closest research currently in existence was a study conducted by Swedish researchers in 2011, who attempted to correct for a lack of long-term, follow-up studies in the post-sex reassignment surgery period. Using a sample of 324 individuals, with 191 male-to-females (MTF) and 133 female-to-males (FTM), researchers found that mortality rates for transgender individuals after surgery were significantly higher. The main culprit was suicide.

Researchers made sure to use random population controls with the same birth year and birth sex. They also adjusted the results to accommodate immigrant status and morbidity before sex surgery occurred.

“Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group,” the Swedish researchers concluded.

Emory will follow in the footsteps of the Swedish study by dividing transgender individuals into two separate categories for more careful analysis: the MTF cohort and the FTM cohort. The study will conclude on May 31, 2015.

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