A national commission chaired by a former US Surgeon General and a former health and safety director for the Coast Guard released a major report this week, finding that US military policies on transgender service members are not based on sound medical science and should be revised. The commission found that the ban on service by transgender people is “an expensive, damaging, and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel” who currently service in uniform.
The commission also criticized the current policy of discharging personnel found to be transgender irrespective of their fitness for duty, stating this is “inconsistent with how the military regulates all other medical and psychological conditions.” Former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, who are in leading medical positions in the Coast Guard and Public Health Service, chaired the commission, and a group of 16 current and former military university professors endorsed the quality of their research and the reasonableness of their conclusions.
The report, published by the Palm Center at San Francisco State University, found that current military regulations regarding transgender people are inconsistent with military policies that permit other service members to be deployed while on hormone medications; permit other service members to continue serving following reconstructive surgeries; and do not discharge service members based on medical diagnoses without an assessment of individual fitness for duty. The report also found that current rules fail to account for recent changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and compromise continuity of care between the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, which has made great strides in supporting trans veterans.
The commission concluded that (1) the ban on service by transgender people should be lifted, (2) general policies in the military medical system are adequate to address the fitness and health care needs of transgender people on an individual basis, and (3) the Pentagon should look to US allies like the UK, Canada, and Australia for practical guidance on addressing records, identification, housing, and other questions that may arise once transgender service members are able to be open about their identities.
This report makes clear the scientific and military-readiness case for reexamining current military policies toward transgender people. We hope the report will prompt the Department of Defense to conduct a thorough and objective review of the science (or rather, the lack of it) behind its policies and replace them with ones that are both sound and fair.
At the same time, NCTE will continue to advocate for DOD to follow other federal agencies in adopting 21st-century policies for records changes for transgender veterans and retirees, and update its civilian equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement to make clear that transgender civilian workers are protected from discrimination.