Navy al­lows sailors to stay

Mil­i­tary awaits de­fin­i­tive guid­ance on trans­gen­der troops

The Signal - - USA TODAY - Tom Vanden Brook @tvan­den­brook

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

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN/GETTY IM­AGES

U.S Navy Vice Adm. Robert Burke says Trump’s trans­gen­der de­ci­sion caught mil­i­tary of­fi­cials by sur­prise.

PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pro­test­ers gather in front of the White House on Wed­nes­day af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced his trans­gen­der de­ci­sion.

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