WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense Ash Carter officially announced that transgender individuals can now openly serve in the U.S. military.
“This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,” declared Carter. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”
Last week, USA Today revealed that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was going to lift the ban on military service by transgender people.
USA Today indicated that service members would be eligible for U.S.-taxpayer funded gender transition surgery once the DOD regulation is changed.
“The DoD policy announced today also establishes a construct by which service members may transition gender while serving, sets standards for medical care and outlines responsibilities for military services and commanders to develop and implement guidance, training and specific policies in the near and long-term,” notes the Pentagon in statement announcing the change.
“The policy will be phased in during a one-year period. Effective immediately, service members may no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied reenlistment solely on the basis of gender identity. Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly,” it adds.
According to DoD, the full policy must be implemented by July 1, 2017.
The Pentagon is expected to develop guidelines by October 1 for military commanders to change a service member’s gender in the computerized database used to determine health care services’ eligibility.
“No later than October 1, 2016, DoD will create and distribute a commanders’ training handbook, medical protocol and guidance for changing a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System (DEERS),” reports the Pentagon.
“At this point, the services will be required to provide medically necessary care and treatment to transgender service members according to the medical protocol and guidance, and may begin changing gender markers in DEERS,” it adds. “Prior to October 1, 2016, requests for medical treatment will be handled on a case-by-case basis consistent with the spirit of the Directive Type Memorandum and the DoD Instruction issued today.”
In 2017, the Pentagon is to finish crafting training and other guidance manuals related to the implementation of the policy change.
“Over the course of the next year, the Department will finalize force training plans and implementation guidance, revise regulations and forms, and train the force, including commanders, human resources specialists, recruiters and service members,” notes DoD. “Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Peter Levine will work with the military services to monitor and oversee this effort.”
“At one year, the services will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards,” it continues. “In addition, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.”
The Pentagon has set up a “central coordination cell” that service members, medical professionals, and commanders can contact during the implementation period.
DoD reports, “The coordination cell is made up of legal experts, policy experts and medical professionals familiar with the issue.”
Republicans in Congress have voiced opposition to repealing the ban, while Democrats have encouraged the move.
The change will apply to a DoD regulation that prohibited transgender individuals from openly serving in the military.
Carter has the power to change that policy without congressional approval because it is a regulation, not a law.
“Some of the key concerns involved in the repeal of the ban on transgender individuals include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs, surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition,” reported the Associated Press (AP) in July 2015.
Unnamed defense officials told AP that “the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together.”