LGBT Groups Skeptical of Pentagon’s Funding of Sex Reassignment Surgery

The Department of Defense confirmed Tuesday that it had funded an active-duty military member’s gender reassignment surgery despite an ongoing battle from the administration to block transgender individuals from the military.

While major pro-LGBT advocacy groups were appreciative that a member of the community was connected with health care, they appeared to remain skeptical that substantive progress is on the horizon.

“While we applaud the Pentagon’s decision to approve a gender confirmation surgery, this does not negate the fact that this administration introduced a transgender military ban,” D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, told Independent Journal Review.

“Until this ban is completely overturned, we as Americans will be doing a disservice to the brave men and women who risk their lives every day for our freedoms,” Kemnitz added.

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Sarah McBride added that equality within the military meant broader access to medically funded health care.

“Regardless of Trump’s attempts at enshrining discrimination in policy, we must ensure that transgender troops are treated the same as everyone else,” McBride claimed. “That includes equal access to medically necessary care.”

Other organization leaders seemed to be even less confident than McBride.

Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, a human rights organization that advocates for trans and gender diverse people, believed this decision by the Department of Defense was optically shallow at best.

“I don’t think that the Pentagon doing what’s right in this instance is necessarily a sign of progress,” Askini said.

Askini believes that many transgender service members live with fear and dread that they will lose their jobs “at any minute” and remain uninspired to come out, even with the possibility of financial aid for surgical treatment.

“I think that it’s unlikely that people will come forward because they’re fearing being kicked out,” Askini said. “My guess is that this has been in the works for months, if not years, and the service member had to go through a very lengthy process.”

Instead of a move toward equality, Askini believes there is no real signal for substantive policy change that advocates have been hoping for.

“I don’t suspect that this is a sign of progress or change, and I don’t think that this is a policy change … even though one person got access to surgical care,” Askini said.

In July, President Donald Trump made his official statement regarding transgender members of the military via Twitter:

He added that “our 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.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) attempted to push the president’s agenda into law with a controversial amendment to the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Haltzer amendment, introduced in July, proposed the ending of military funding of transgender surgeries, citing potential high costs as a burden on taxpayers.

The House of Representatives killed the amendment in a bipartisan vote, 209-21.

Now, Hartzler’s disappointment and frustration persist.

“This is a poor use of our precious defense dollars when nearly 60 percent of our Navy aircraft cannot fly. In the Pentagon’s statement Tuesday, they admit they are not equipped to provide gender reassignment surgery,” Hartzler tells IJR.

She underscored her previous belief that funding is better appropriated toward “worn-out and subpar equipment that is endangering and even killing our service members.”

However, research from the RAND Corporation indicates that active-component costs regarding gender transition-related health care would only increase by 0.04 to 0.13 percent if made widely available — a negligible amount.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the Department of Defense’s Supplemental Health Care Program covered the operation.

“Because this service member had already begun a sex-reassignment course of treatment, and the treating doctor deemed this surgery medically necessary, a waiver was approved by the director of the Defense Health Agency,” White said.

An administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed that the Pentagon’s decision indicates the president’s commitment “to fulfilling his campaign promise of being a fervent supporter of the LGBT community.”

The White House and Department of Defense did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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