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Aug 30, 2013 9:25 PM by Erika Flores

Transgender veterans find support in southern Arizona

TUCSON - Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier sentenced for leaking classified documents, came out this month as transgender.

In Southern Arizona, the VA Healthcare System tells News 4 Tucson, they had to bring in a team of specialists for transgender healthcare because of the increasing amount of transgender veterans coming out.

For more than 60 years, Rebecca Anne Hecht said she had to hide as Richard.

"I wanted to cry because I wasn't able to show my feminine side," said Hecht.

She said she felt that way at an early age.

"I was born a girl, but I had a different body," she said. "Whenever I could when my mother was at work, I would go and put her clothes on, but I could only do it in the house."

She said when her mother realized it, "My mother was not understanding," said Hecht. "My mother put me in the navy when I was 16. She said it would make a man out of me. Well, it didn't."

Dr. Sonia Perez Padilla with Southern Arizona's VA Health Care System said Hecht's story is a common one among transgender veterans.

"There's a much higher prevalence of transgender in the veteran population," said Dr. Padilla. "They're families push them to be more manly."

According to a Gallup report, 3.4 percent of the general population identify as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender community.

"Approximately 30 out of every 100 thousand veterans are transgender veterans," said Dr. Padilla.

Dr. Padilla said that number is increasing as transgender veterans learn they're not alone.

Before forming her team of transgender healthcare experts, Dr. Padilla said the hospital served only 16 transgender veterans.

Now, they're close to 100 just in Southern Arizona.

"It feels good to know there's others like myself," said Hecht."I don't know what I would have done without the VA. I might have been one of those who committed suicide. I don't know.

For more information about the VA's healthcare click here:

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