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Carter announces policy for transgender service members

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced June 30 that transgender individuals will now be able to openly serve in the U.S. armed forces.

The new Defense Department policy also establishes a construct by which service members may transition gender while serving, sets standards for medical care and outlines responsibilities for military services and commanders to develop and implement guidance, training and specific policies in the near and long term.

“This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,” Carter said. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission."

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James vocalized her support for the policy change.

"Transgender Airmen serve alongside us with integrity, service and excellence,” James said. “Today's announcement is the first step in allowing transgender Airmen to serve openly, receive medical care relating to gender transition and allow transgender individuals to join the Air Force. Our strengths as a military are the quality and character of our people and those things that make us unique are the same things that make us strong. In the coming months we will work diligently to fully implement Secretary Carter's decision."

The policy will be phased in during a one-year period. Effective immediately, service members may no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied re-enlistment solely on the basis of gender identity. Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly.

By Oct. 1, the DOD will create and distribute a commanders’ training handbook, medical protocol and guidance for changing a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System (DEERS). At this point, the services will be required to provide medically necessary care and treatment to transgender service members according to the medical protocol and guidance, and may begin changing gender markers in DEERS.

Prior to Oct. 1, requests for medical treatment will be handled on a case-by-case basis consistent with the spirit of the directive type memorandum and the DOD instruction issued June 30.

Over the course of the next year, the DOD will finalize force training plans and implementation guidance, revise regulations and forms, and train the force, including commanders, human resources specialists, recruiters and service members. Peter Levine, the acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will work with the military services to monitor and oversee this effort.

At one year, the services will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards. In addition, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the ROTC or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.

The full policy must be completely implemented no later than July 1, 2017.

To support service members, medical professionals and commanders during the implementation period, the DOD has set up a central coordination cell which will serve as a central point of contact for technical questions and concerns. The coordination cell is made up of legal experts, policy experts and medical professionals familiar with the issue.

(Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs contributed to this article.)

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