Mattis Delays Acceptance of New Transgender Service Members by Six Months

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced in a brief statement Friday evening that Defense Secretary James Mattis "approved a recommendation by the services to defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018."

"The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces," said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

The delay will only affect transgender people aiming to enlist or commission, as transgender service members currently serve openly under the Obama-era policy.

One year ago, then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters that his decision, which began with a review process in 2015 to "study practical issues related to serving openly" along with a policy implementation plan, was driven by concerns about the future of the force, the current force and "matters of principle."

"We have to have access to 100 percent of America's population... to recruit among them most highly qualified," he said.

RAND Corp. helped the DoD with the study and estimated there are 2,500 transgender service members currently on active duty and 1,500 in the reserves. Carter said "outside expert groups" and medical experts outside the department participated in the review, and allied militaries that allow transgender service members to serve openly were also consulted to see "how they dealt with this issue." At least 18 countries fall into that category, including the UK, Israel and Australia.

"Although relatively few in number, we're talking about talented and trained Americans," he added, stressing the military wanted "to retain people whose talent we've invested in and proven themselves."

Carter said he recognized that commanders would need clearer and more consistent guidance on issues ranging from deployment to medical treatment. Most transgender service members were going outside the military medical system and paid out of pocket, he said. "This is inconsistent with our promise to all our troops that we will take care of them and pay for medical treatment."

Carter said he met with some transgender service members during the review process, and found they felt valued by peers and commanders "in most cases," while some felt frustrated by a "lack of clear guidelines" for commanders. "One service member I had met with described how some people had urged him to leave the military, because of the challenges he was facing with our policies, and he said he just wouldn't quit. He was too committed to the mission, and this is where he wanted to be. These are the kind of people we want serving in our military."

"They don't want special treatment -- they want to be held to the same standards and be treated like everyone else," he said.

From June 2016 forward, military members from the operations level to recruiters received training on the new transgender policy.

Existing service members deemed to be transgender by their doctors would be able to fully transition through the military healthcare system under the policy. Asked if that included hormone therapy or complete gender reassignment surgery, Carter said that would depend on what doctors determine is "medically necessary."

He said RAND concluded this would account for "an exceedingly small proportion of DOD's overall healthcare expenditures." After legally transitioning to a new gender, then a service member would wear the corresponding uniforms, use the corresponding housing and have to meet that gender's fitness standards.

Any transgender person hoping to joint the military would have to "have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined as necessary in connection with their gender transition and to have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military." That was supposed to go into effect Saturday.

Carter said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who carried over from the Obama administration into the Trump administration, wanted a longer timeline than Carter originally proposed, and that was reflected in the final policy.

The Human Rights Campaign said the delay, which service chiefs reportedly recommended to assess how currently serving transgender service members were faring and how bases may need to adjust, was without merit.

“Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity," said HRC press secretary Stephen Peters. "We are disappointed in this needless delay because the thousands of highly trained and qualified transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today have proven that what matters is the ability to accomplish the mission, not their gender identity.”