The Pentagon will begin accepting transgender troops Jan. 1, 2018, complying with a federal court order that overrules President Trump’s pledge to ban them from the military.
The White House and Pentagon confirmed Monday that the military will put in place policies that permit the services to accept new recruits. Those plans had been formulated under the Obama administration, which had scheduled them to take effect July 1. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Pentagon would comply with federal court orders to accept new transgender troops.
“As of right now, they’re simply complying with a court order and preparing to implement a previous policy to remain in compliance,” Sanders said. “The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the legal options to ensure that the president’s directive can be implemented.”
The Defense Department delayed the implementation of the Obama-era plan, and Trump tweeted in late July that he wanted to ban transgender troops from serving. Those actions have triggered court challenges by advocates for transgender troops, and courts have generally sided with them.
The Pentagon, in a statement Monday, acknowledged that it would comply with an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to implement policy on accepting transgender troops announced last year by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The Pentagon “and the Department of Justice are actively pursuing relief from those court orders in order to allow an ongoing policy review scheduled to be completed before the end of March,” according to the statement.
“The Department of Defense will begin processing transgender applicants for military service on January 1, 2018, as mandated by recent court order,” said Army Maj. David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman. At the same time, the Department of Justice is actively seeking relief from those orders.”
In August, Trump ordered that the Pentagon reverse the Obama administration’s policy for accepting new transgender troops as well as treating those already in uniform. The order stated that the Pentagon had failed to prove that terminating the previous ban on transgender troops, on the basis of health concerns, “would not hinder military effectiveness, lethality, disrupt unit cohesion or tax military resources.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made readiness and lethality guiding principles of his tenure at the Pentagon.
In September, Mattis announced that the Pentagon would establish a new policy on transgender by Feb. 21, 2018. An expert panel and high-ranking Pentagon officials are crafting recommendations for Mattis based on “appropriate evidence and information.”
Until that deadline, Mattis issued interim guidance that included a ban on accepting new transgender enlisted recruits and officers. That ban now has been lifted, and the new policy put in place Jan 1. The services had been developing their policy for accepting new transgender troops for several months under the Obama administration.
During the Obama administration, the Pentagon commissioned a study by the non-partisan RAND Corp. to examine issues regarding transgender service in the military. RAND estimated that there are a few to several thousand transgender troops on the active duty force of about 1.3 million. Treatment costs and effects on military readiness were deemed negligible.
The annual price tag for the troops’ treatment, ranging from counseling, hormone treatment and surgery, was estimated at between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, according to RAND.
This spring, the lack of a policy for accepting transgender troops affected two graduates, one each at the Air Force and Army academies. They were unable to join their fellow graduates as new officers.
The Obama-era policy called for transgender recruits and new officer candidates to be certified by a doctor as stable in their mew gender for 18 months before they can enter the military.
“Today’s announcement that the U.S. military will accept transgender applicants as of January 1, 2018 reflects a simple reality: military and civil servants in the Pentagon have been preparing for accession for transgender Americans for more than two years,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which researches issues regarding sexual orientation issues in the military.