The former leaders of the US Navy, Army, and Air Force said in a joint statement last week that Pentagon officials falsely told Congress during testimony late last month that medical treatment sidelines transgender service members for longer periods of time and that they “ignored data confirming the success” of former President Barack Obama’s policy to allow all LGBTQ people to serve openly in the military.
The March 3 statement, signed by former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and former US Army Secretary Eric Fanning, followed a February 27 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel during which five transgender service members testified before this subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee and stressed that they have succeeded in carrying out their respective duties regardless of their gender identity.
However, James N. Stewart, who serves as the Pentagon’s leader for personnel policy, and Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, who heads up the Defense Health Agency, pushed the argument that soldiers with gender dysphoria are a burden on the military. Remarkably, Stewart tried to downplay the effect of the ban on transgender troops, saying that the military aimed only to remove those service members with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — even though by that criteria no transgender person would be allowed to serve if they wished to transition to their appropriate gender. Bono argued that trans service members require more mental health services compared to troops who are not transgender.
Stewart also argued that the ban on transgender troops, which was first announced by President Donald Trump in a July 2017 tweet, is not discriminatory because it is focused on gender dysphoria instead of being a categorical ban on trans troops. But the exclusion of those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, in practice, comes very close to the president’s original shoot-from-the-hip tweet that all transgender personnel would be banned.
“The realities associated with the condition called gender dysphoria and the accommodations required for that gender transition in the military are far more complicated than we may assume,” Stewart said, according to The Hill. He also said that Obama’s policy of accepting transgender troops would eventually lead to degradation of “military readiness.”
Mabus, James, and Fanning said in their statement — which was issued through the Palm Center, a think tank with a specialty in issues regarding sexual minorities in the military — that the Pentagon’ testimony was rife with “misleading claims” as part of an effort “to justify President Trump’s wrong-headed ban on transgender service members.”
The three former military leaders further said current officials made “the untrue assertion that holding all service members to the same standards affords ‘special accommodations’ to transgender troops.”
The statement marked the latest development in what has become a years-long struggle for transgender service members to retain the open service policy — announced late in the Obama administration — in the wake of Trump’s 2017 declaration that the US government would no longer allow transgender people to serve “in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” citing medical costs.
The Department of Defense, however, revealed last month that the military has only spent $8 million on healthcare for transgender service members since 2016, according to the USA Today. The Pentagon spends roughly $50 billion annually on healthcare.
Mabus, James, and Fanning concluded that they agreed with 41 retired general and flag officers who wrote a similar statement one day before in which they expressed their “grave concern” that the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members “contradicts the actual judgment of both current and former senior military leaders, as well as medical research and the experiences our own military and of other militaries.”