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Transgender guardsman born for military service

Mak Vaden
Mak Vaden is a transgender service member currently serving as a warrant officer in the Georgia Army National Guard. Transgender Day of Visibility is March 31. VA Augusta Health Care System is committed to serving all Veterans. Those seeking more information on LGBTQ+ services available can discuss it with their VA Augusta primary care provider who can input a consult on their behalf.

Growing up in the South with sticks, stones, and war games, one local service member knew he wanted to be in the military, even before he knew he was meant to be a man.

“It was just something that was always inside of me,” said Mak Vaden, a warrant officer with the Georgia Army National Guard who grew up in a culture where military life was glamorized.

Raised in Belmont, North Carolina, Vaden remembers cow pastures and the stereotypical charm and prejudices the South was known for.

"Back in those days it was a very small town,” said Vaden, who grew up thinking he was a lesbian before he discovered what was deep inside.

“Being LGBTQ in the town was very difficult, a lot of discrimination,” said Vaden, who came out as a lesbian at age 16. “Luckily, we found friends to get us through.”

Home sick one day, Vaden caught a glimpse of Oprah’s daytime talk show where the topic was spouses who had transitioned from one gender to another.

“It just kind of clicked with me, though,” said Vaden. “I always knew there was something different about me, but I never knew what it was, and that (show) kind of helped identify what it was.”

After seeing others live successful, full lives after transition, he felt encouraged to explore how he could match his “outside” to what he was feeling on the inside.

Because he entered the military during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, Vaden kept his sexuality under the radar, and as a result, never personally felt discriminated against for being a lesbian. With the repeal of military policies that prohibited homosexual and transgender service members, he began to pursue transitioning in earnest.

In 2018, three years after he began his transitioning journey, Vaden joined SPARTA, a transgender military advocacy organization, to seek guidance, comradery, and a social network with people working through similar issues in all branches of the military.

“That year, I got my name changed and I was just starting with my gender marker package change. That was a whole other level of bureaucracy and paperwork.”

In November 2018, Vaden was recognized as the distinguished honor graduate at the Army’s enlisted Senior Leaders Course where he chose to come out in front of the class.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Vaden said, knowing many policies weren’t fully in place yet and discrimination still existed. “But my classmates were very receptive.”

In 2021, new guidance came out about the Army’s support for active duty members who are transgender and experience body dysmorphia.

“I never in a million years thought I would see that,” said Vaden. “That was a big step. It was very encouraging.”

Now, Vaden shares his story often to educate others, hoping to change hearts and minds one person at a time. If you would like to contact Vaden directly, please email him at:

VA Augusta Serves All Veterans

VA Augusta Health Care System joins the nation in observing Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31. It’s a time to celebrate the many invaluable contributions of the LGBTQ+ community, including the LGBTQ+ Veteran patients under our care.

“Our doors are open to all Veterans,” said Dr. Jennifer Merrifield, VA Augusta Health Care System clinical psychologist and LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator. “We want CSRA Veterans to talk about all aspects of their lives with their provider – and that includes their sexual orientation and gender identities – so we can give individualized, compassionate care to every Veteran.”

VA Augusta offers programs dedicated to caring for LGBTQ+ Veterans and understanding their unique challenges and health concerns. We provide comprehensive care for LGBTQ+ Veterans, including hormone/surgery readiness evaluations, gender prosthetic devices, voice therapy, hormone therapy, PrEP and PEP treatment, name change assistance, and discharge upgrades.  In addition, every VA facility has an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator to help Veterans navigate their health care and update their records.

Veterans seeking more information on LGBTQ+ services available could discuss it with their primary care provider who can input a consult. Also, every Veteran can send a secure message directly to Dr. Merrifield via MyHealtheVet portal - triage group: CHARLIE NORWOOD VAMC LGBTQ+