Navy allows sailors to stay
Military awaits definitive guidance on transgender troops
Military leaders sought to reassure transgender troops Thursday that their jobs and health care are safe — at least for now — after President Trump’s tweets a day earlier that implied an immediate end to both.
The Navy offered the most specific guidance, saying no transgender sailors will be discharged and the service will continue to provide health care for them, according to an email obtained by USA TODAY.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, told all service chiefs in a memo that there will be no changes in transgender policy until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis receives specific direction from the White House.
Yet administration officials said that guidance may be weeks or even months away.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said there was no timetable to implement Trump’s tweets on Wednesday morning that declared transgender troops would not be welcome to serve in any capacity, and that the military would not pay for their medical treatment.
Military leaders acknowledged the tumult created by those tweets, and that they were blindsided by the announcement.
The Navy’s guidance, which
came in an email from Vice Adm. Robert Burke, also acknowledges that Trump’s announcement is “causing concern for some of our sailors and that they likely have questions.”
What’s more, Burke indicates that Trump’s tweets caught military brass unawares.
Burke notes that the office of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is “working to quickly discern the President’s intent.” Mattis was on vacation when Trump made his announcement.
The Defense secretary, and by extension, the Navy “will not take any personnel actions or change any policy until further guidance from the President is received,” Burke wrote, adding that transgender sailors receiving medical care will continue “to receive all necessary medical care” and none would be discharged.
He concluded by saying, “treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our Sailors at all times.”
Trump’s decision to ban transgender troops left the White House and Pentagon scrambling to determine how to proceed in the immediate aftermath Wednesday. One day later, there has been no formal policy guidance issued from the White House about reversing the policy that started under the Obama administration to allow transgender troops to serve openly.
In July 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlined a plan to allow transgender troops to receive treatment that ranges from counseling to hormone treatment to gender reassignment surgery. Before, those service members could have been discharged for medical reasons. There may be as many as 6,600 transgender troops on the military’s active duty force, according to a RAND Corp. report.
As civil liberties and LGBTQ groups denounce Trump’s decision, the White House has been unable to answer questions about whether transgender service members would be dismissed from the military — even if they are currently deployed to conflict zones.
Explaining his rationale on Wednesday, Trump said the U.S. military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Yet any savings Trump hoped to achieve by denying transgender troops medical care will be overshadowed by the cost of replacing them.
The RAND Corp., a non-partisan think tank commissioned by the Pentagon to study the issue, found that only a few hundred of the estimated 6,600 transgender troops would seek medical treatment in any year. RAND found those costs would total no more than $8 million per year.
Replacing transgender troops would likely be far more costly. The Army, for example, is spending $300 million this year on bonuses and ads to recruit 6,000 soldiers. That does not include the money needed to train, equip and pay them.
Though Trump’s tweets said he made the decision after consulting “with my generals and military experts,” it remains unclear who took part in those discussions.
Navy Capt. Greg Hicks declined to comment on whether Trump consulted Dunford on repealing the policy. Those conversations are private and confidential, said Hicks, Dunford’s spokesman.
“Treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our sailors at all times.”
Navy Vice Adm. Robert Burke
U.S Navy Vice Adm. Robert Burke says Trump’s transgender decision caught military officials by surprise.
Protesters gather in front of the White House on Wednesday after President Trump announced his transgender decision.