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Mattis: Transgender troops can temporarily re-enlist, continue receiving medical care

A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Luncheon was held June 30, 2016 at Club Altus, concluding Altus Air Force Base's third annual Department of Defense LGBT Pride Month Observance. New guidance released Friday, Sept. 15, 2016, by the Pentagon clarified that transgender troops currently in the military can continue to serve.

MEGAN E. MYHRE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 18, 2017

WASHINGTON — Transgender servicemembers can re-enlist and receive Defense Department-approved medical care for at least several more months while a panel of top Pentagon officials determines how to carry out President Donald Trump’s ban on their service, according to a Pentagon memorandum.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will lead the committee of experts from inside and outside of the military to study the impact transgender troops have on unit cohesion and military lethality, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced in a memorandum to top defense officials dated Sept. 14. The panel will provide its guidance to Mattis “supported by appropriate evidence and information” by February, when the defense secretary is scheduled to provide Trump a plan to implement the ban.

The White House in August formally ordered the Pentagon to prepare to reinstate a ban on transgender men and women serving in the military. The order came nearly a month after Trump issued a sudden, three-tweet announcement July 27 that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve “in any capacity,” which caught the Pentagon by surprise.

Trump cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption” to military units in defending his decision to ban transgender servicemembers, who were only granted the right to serve openly by former President Barack Obama’s administration last year.

Servicemembers who have already identified themselves as transgender men or women and have officially changed their preferred gender in the Defense Department’s data system will continue to serve in that gender at least until the study is complete, Mattis wrote in the two-page memo. Most of the guidelines introduced by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in July 2016 when he officially ended the military’s ban on transgender troops remain in place, including access to medical care.

“Servicemembers who receive a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a military medical provider will be provided treatment for the diagnosed medical condition,” Mattis wrote, adding gender reassignment surgeries would cease March 22, 2018, “except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.”

Mattis will also allow “otherwise qualified” transgender men and women now in the military to re-enlist if their term of service expires before the study is complete and new guidance is implemented.

It remains unclear how many transgender people are openly serving in the military. Pentagon officials have declined to provide a specific number, saying there are “hundreds” of servicemembers who have identified themselves as transgender individuals. The Defense Department has declined to release specific information about how many troops are now receiving medical treatment – such as hormone therapy or gender-reassignment surgery – for gender dysphoria.

A Rand Corp. study commissioned last year by the Pentagon to help it determine its transgender policy estimated there were between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people among about 1.3 million active-duty troops.

A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers, including John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has introduced a bill to block Trump’s ban on transgender troops.

“Any member of the military who meets the medical and readiness standards should be allowed to serve — including those who are transgender," McCain said in a statement.

McCain was joined by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in authorizing the legislation introduced Friday.

For now, Mattis has ensured transgender servicemembers will not be dismissed from service simply because of their gender identity.

“No action may be taken to involuntarily separate or discharge an otherwise qualified servicemember solely on the basis of gender dysphoria diagnosis or transgender status,” he wrote in the memo.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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