Beginning last summer, the U.S. military community has been debating whether transgender troops are fit to serve. President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, along with many military leaders, seem to be at odds over a policy relating to transgender troops.
Final Policy Pending
Mattis was under a February 21, 2018, deadline to return his recommendations to the president. According to The Washington Post, it is anticipated that Mattis will support transgender troops currently serving, as well as those wishing to join in the future. Mattis made his official recommendation regarding Trump’s proposed transgender military policy on February 23, 2018. The Pentagon has not confirmed or commented on Mattis’ final recommendation.
As of January 1, 2018, individuals identifying as transgender are free to enlist or seek a commission in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Mattis’ likely position could be supported by a 2016 Rand Corporation study that was commissioned by the Obama administration. Former President Barack Obama and his administration had removed the ban on transgender troops who serve openly in June 2016.
This study found that less than 1% of active duty troops identify as transgender.
Approximately, between 1,320 and 6,630 active duty troops identify as transgender. Additionally, the study found that total medical costs related directly to transgender-specific medical care would be negligible, amounting to less than $10 million annually. This is a “relatively small” amount in the military budget. It represents a 0.04% to 0.13% increase in the overall active duty health care expenses.
Finally, not all transgender troops would elect to transition medically, with surgery. The study concluded that between 29 and 129 service members would experience a disruption to deployment readiness as a result of transgender-specific medical care.
Currently 1.3 million troops are on active duty.
Trump Tweets New Transgender Policy
On July 26, 2017, Trump tweeted his desire to reinstate a ban on transgender troops. He cited the increased cost of medical care for transgender troops as well as the disruption of military service. His announcement, which claimed that he had consulted with top military brass, seemed to catch Mattis and other military leaders off-guard. At the time of the tweets, Mattis made no immediate official comment.
Days later, military leaders appeared to walk back Trump’s sweeping policy change. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford made clear that transgender personnel would continue to serve until Mattis received clear direction from Trump. Then, that direction would need to be implemented over time. This decision was supported by Mattis.
According to recently released emails, Dunford communicated to the other service chiefs that he was “not consulted.” Dunford appeared willing to confirm this to the media and wrote that this policy change “was unexpected.”
Ban Blocked in Court
On October 30, 2017, the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C., issued an injunction in favor of 8 transgender individuals who were in ROTC programs or enrolled at service academies. The D.C. court’s decision was backed by the Maryland district court in a November 12, 2017, ruling. The Maryland judge also issued an impending injunction that blocked Trump’s proposed ban to take effect due to constitutional violations of the plaintiffs. Both cases are still pending a final ruling.
The initial rulings from Maryland and D.C. allowed these individuals to continue to take steps toward active duty service. The injunctions also swayed the Pentagon to allow transgender individuals to enlist starting on January 1, 2018.
Trump directed Mattis, per an August 25, 2017, executive order, to review the current policy as well as his proposed policy. His recommendations were due back to the White House on February 21, 2018.
The White House is anticipated to release its final verdict and policy statement on March 23, 2018.
Questions Remain for Transgender Troops
In the middle of all of this political discussion, are the openly transgender troops currently serving. Their continued service is potentially at risk. In addition, as of January 1, 2018, openly transgender individuals are allowed to join active military service.
Trump’s March 23 decision could have immediate ramifications for troops currently serving, as well as those who are beginning their initial processing and training. Troops who are currently serving may be forced to resign without benefits. However, the actual proposed policy regarding current transgender service members remains unclear.