- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016

For the first time, the Defense Department will allow transgender people to serve in all branches of the armed forces, eliminating the last barrier to any and all U.S. citizens to serve in the military.

The decision, announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday, will go into full effect by Oct. 1, allowing transgender troops to become eligible for full medical care and to be recognized as transgender in official military records.

“We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” Mr. Carter told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have to have access to 100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified and to retain them.”

Defense officials said the individual military service leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, aren’t opposed to lifting the ban, but they thought the new rules didn’t include enough specifics to guide commanders who will have to make decisions about people in their units, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Carter said at a Pentagon briefing that he discussed the plans extensively with his military leaders and that, based on their recommendations, he made adjustments to the timeline. He said he has been told that the services now support the timeline.

The move proved divisive on Capitol Hill, with critics saying the Obama administration was more concerned with political correctness in the ranks than in bolstering U.S. military might in an increasingly dangerous world.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said there remained deep questions about what the move meant for the ability of American forces to fight.

“Our military readiness — and, hence, our national security — is dependent on our troops’ being medically ready and deployable,” the Texas Republican said. “The administration seems unwilling or unable to assure the Congress and the American people that transgender individuals will meet these individual readiness requirements at a time when our armed forces are deployed around the world.”

“Our military is facing historic readiness shortfalls, putting our service members’ lives at greater risk,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Addressing this crisis should be the sole focus of the Obama administration, but instead they continue to be more interested in forcing their social agenda” through the Defense Department.

‘Issue of fundamental fairness’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, praised Mr. Carter’s order.

“Lifting the ban on transgender Americans serving in uniform is an issue of fundamental fairness,” she said. “No longer will transgender people in uniform suffer the injustice of being forced to leave the service because of who they are or their gender identity.”

As part of the policy change, Defense Department officials will draft rules and regulations to allow changes to a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System, which is used to govern military health care and benefits. Military hospitals will be required to have the necessary facilities to provide care and treatment for transgender service members.

However, Pentagon “policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition, and to have been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military,” said the Defense Department policy on transgender troops.

The decision is one of several politically charged personnel policy changes made at the Defense Department under Mr. Obama.

Under Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, the Pentagon formally repealed its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, allowing openly gay and lesbian service members in the ranks. Along with Thursday’s announcement, Mr. Carter opened all military jobs, including front-line infantry positions and special operations teams, to female soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

With an analysis putting the U.S. transgender population at 1.4 million — double the most-cited previous estimate — the Pentagon move was sparking a larger debate in the culture.

Jerry Boykin, the retired lieutenant general who is now executive vice president of the conservative Family Research Council, asked, “Why is this a top priority for the Obama administration?”

Mr. Boykin added, “Before changing any policy, the impact on military readiness has to be the first consideration. Defense Secretary Carter has failed to explain how this new policy makes our military more capable of winning wars.”

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