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Pentagon: Transgender soldier receives sex-change operation

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 15, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon for the first time will pay for a U.S. servicemember’s gender reassignment surgery Tuesday after the operation was deemed “medically necessary,” a spokeswoman said.

The servicemember underwent the surgery at a private hospital, because military health facilities are not prepared to conduct such procedures, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said late Tuesday. It comes as debate continues about whether transgender men and women should be allowed to serve openly in the military and whether the Pentagon should foot the bill for their health care.

President Donald Trump announced in July that transgender men and women would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. He cited, among other concerns, the cost of their health care as a reason for imposing his ban.

Trump gave military officials until March to implement his new policy. Until then, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered that transgender servicemembers continue serving as they had under then-President Barack Obama’s policy allowing them to serve openly since June 2016.

“Because this servicemember had already begun a sex-reassignment course of treatment, and the treating doctor deemed this surgery medically necessary, a waiver was approved by the director of the Defense Health Agency,” White said in a statement. “The Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with the Department’s interim guidance on transgender servicemembers.”

The active-duty soldier underwent the operation in a Pennsylvania hospital, Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Wednesday. The soldier’s identity was not released, citing privacy laws.

McCarthy said the soldier in August 2016 declared to the Army he was transgender and began the medical process, which an Army doctor determined would include sex-reassignment surgery to treat gender dysphoria.

NBC News, first to report the procedure, described the patient as an infantry soldier who earned a Combat Infantry Badge in Afghanistan in 2003 and identifies as a woman. The organization cited unnamed sources close to the soldier.

On July 27, Trump announced on Twitter a ban on transgender men and women serving in the military “in any capacity.” The president wrote he had consulted with generals and military experts before reaching his conclusion. His announcement – made official by a White House memorandum about a month later – cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption” to military units, but it caught top Pentagon officials by surprise.

That order reversed a year-old Obama administration policy allowing transgender individuals to serve openly and approving payments for surgeries and treatments deemed medically necessary.

The White House order seeks to halt transgender individuals from enlisting in the military and to discharge those on active duty by March.

Mattis and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers they would support retaining transgender servicemembers who are qualified to serve in the military.

“I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and who is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September.

Mattis has convened a panel of experts to study the impact of transgender people in the military. That panel is due to make its recommendations by early next year, Mattis told reporters Monday.

A federal judge last month temporarily blocked Trump’s ban, ruling the White House order was not based on facts and was meant only to discriminate against transgender people.

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. The Defense Department has declined to release specific information about how many troops are 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 1,320 to 6,630 transgender people among about 1.3 million active-duty troops.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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