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Pentagon deceived Congress on transgender troops, former officials say

Politico Pro

Washington, March 4, 2019
Tags: Veterans
The former secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy, along with instructors at the Air Force and Coast Guard academies, are accusing the Pentagon of deceiving Congress when Defense officials testified last week that medical treatment for transgender troops keeps them off duty longer than other personnel — and of ignoring the military's own data to the contrary.
The former secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy, along with instructors at the Air Force and Coast Guard academies, are accusing the Pentagon of deceiving Congress when Defense officials testified last week that medical treatment for transgender troops keeps them off duty longer than other personnel — and of ignoring the military's own data to the contrary.

“In seeking to justify President Trump's wrong-headed ban on transgender service members at congressional hearing last week, Defense Department officials made misleading claims," Deborah Lee James, Ray Mabus and Eric Fanning, who ran the Air Force, Navy and Army, respectively, in the Obama administration, said in a statement shared with POLITICO.

The Obama-era policy that allows transgender troops to serve openly — and which Trump ordered overturned last year — requires they "meet exactly the same fitness and deployability standards as everybody else," the trio point out, "but the witnesses ignored data confirming the success of that policy while making the untrue assertion that holding all service members to the same standards affords 'special accommodations' to transgender troops."

Fanning, the first openly gay head of a military department, is now the president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, one of the largest and most influential defense trade groups.

In addition to the former service secretaries, a collection of current and former faculty members at military academies and war colleges are also calling out the Pentagon for what they say was "erroneous" testimony.

"Both the written and verbal testimony introduced deceptive, erroneous, and false assertions about the ostensible risk that gender dysphoria poses to readiness and deployment and about standards that [the Department of Defense] plans to apply to transgender service members," they write in a point-by-point refutation.

Both critiques were organized by the nonprofit Palm Center, a research institute that specializes in sexual minorities.

In a hearing last week, James Stewart, the Pentagon's top personnel official, told the House Armed Services Committee's personnel panel that the military must maintain Trump's proposed ban on recruits who have gender dysphoria — the psychological distress caused when a person's physical or assigned gender conflicts with how they identify — due to the "the accommodations required for gender transition treatments."

Stewart, who testified alongside Navy Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, told the committee in what at times was a combative hearing that those who have gender dysphoria should be disqualified from service because of the medical treatment they require.

Stewart stressed that under the Trump policy, transgender troops who do not undergo transition surgery to treat their gender dysphoria can still enlist.

If they do transition, "there was surgery and there were other procedures done associated with that," he said, stressing that the military does not allow people with many other medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes or cancer, to enlist.

Panel Democrats pushed back against that line of reasoning, including Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland.

"We are not talking about heart surgery and diabetes," Brown shot back to Stewart. "We are talking about a group of Americans who identify as transgender. I have never seen a group of Americans who are prone to heart attacks who come lobbying Congress and saying, 'Give us the right to serve even though the risk of heart attack is very great because I have already had three or four.' That is mixing apples and oranges."

Brown added: "I hear about special accommodations. The same thing was said about African-Americans when they wanted to enter the Army in an integrated Army in 1948. Same thing was said about gay, lesbian, and bisexual members who wanted to serve."

The military instructors are taking particular issue with the assertion that transgender military personnel require more time off than their fellow troops. They cite the Pentagon's own data as evidence to the contrary, as well as five transgender troops who testified before the House panel just ahead of Stewart and Bono.

"The suggestion that transition-related care is likely to make service members nondeployable for more than a year is contradicted by DoD data," they write, adding that the five service members who testified about their overseas deployments ”typify service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria who have deployed overseas successfully."

They added: "The Pentagon’s own data show that 393 service members with gender dysphoria have deployed to the Middle East, and of those, only one was unable to complete the deployment for mental health reasons."

Trump's transgender policy has been delayed by a series of court battles over its constitutionality. Pending their outcomes, the Obama policy still remains in effect.

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