Researchers with connections to Indiana University plan to study the impact of military policies on transgender soldiers.
Brandon Hill, a researcher for the University of Chicago, formerly of the IU Kinsey Institute, will look at the use of health care by transgender members of the military after receiving a grant from the Palm Center, an organization that “promotes the study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the armed forces.”
Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, the study will delve into the continuing effects of the policy and the stigma gays and transgender people often face in the military.
Hill will complete the study, titled “Understanding Aspects of Transgender Medical Accommodation and Care in the U.S. Military,” over a two-year period with IU graduate student Joshua Trey Barnett.
Through an online study of about 150 to 200 people, and in-person interviews with another 15 to 20 people, Hill said, he wants to see if transgender soldiers are going untreated for common medical issues such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems, because their local VA might not be the most “welcoming” place.
News of the grant came this month, just as Bradley Manning, the soldier who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information, announced he wanted to be known as Chelsea Manning.
While there are established veterans groups for transgender people where researchers can find volunteers for the study, the challenge will be finding active duty transgender soldiers to participate in the study, which will be anonymous.
But if studies are accurate, the numbers are out there; according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 20 percent of its respondents served in the military, while military service members only make up 10 percent of the general population.
Society, as a whole, has only recently recognized gender identity issues, Hill said, citing changes to Bloomington’s own antidiscrimination policy in 2007 to include gender identity.
Hill and Barnett want to see how being transgender in the military affects the health of both active duty military and veterans, who he fears may be passing up on using their benefits because of the military’s conflicting policies on transgender issues.
Active service members’ benefits do not cover hormone therapies that help with sex change. But those procedures are covered by veterans benefits.
That discrepancy, and the stigma that carries over from active duty service members to civilian life, has piqued the interest of researchers, including Hill and the Kinsey Institute. He’s also wondering if, because of the differing rules for active duty military and veterans, many veterans are unaware that hormone therapy, mental health counseling, or something as simple as changing their gender identity on their ID, are services available to them.
“There seems to be a disjuncture between active service members in the military and veterans who come out still in a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ mode,” Hill said.