Trans Surgical Care in Military Is on Hold, Leaked Emails Say

Emails obtained by Broadly reveal that trans-related surgical care within the US military is halted, pending guidance from the administration. A Pentagon spokesperson says there has been no official change in policy.

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Aug 18 2017, 6:26pm

Photo of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. by Win McNamee/Getty Images

A transgender member of the US military, who was granted anonymity by Broadly, was scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure next week. However, according to the service member, the transition-related surgery—which they had been planning for several months—was abruptly canceled on Tuesday.

A recent email sent to medical officials in the US military, a photograph of which was obtained by Broadly, explains why: "Surgery related to gender transition is to be held at this time, effective now, pending further guidance." In addition to the hold on new surgeries, the email mandates that "any planned surgeries for gender transition must be cancelled at this time."

Read more: Trans Veterans Respond to The President's Ban

The original email guidance was sent out of the Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG) and the US Army Medical Command (MEDCOM). According to the email, the Department of Defense Health Affairs (DoDHA) has instructed Military Treatment Facilities to "hold on all surgical procedures on Service Members for purely Transgender/gender transition indications." Patients may still be evaluated for transition-related surgery, according to the email, "but surgery may not be performed, pending additional guidance from DoD in response to forthcoming guidance from the administration in respect to transgender service."

A second email obtained by Broadly included a forwarded correspondence sent by MEDCOM at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston (BAMC), the army's largest medical center in the US. In the email, MEDCOM BAMC informs its team of the recent guidance they received: The same guidance pictured in the original email obtained by Broadly.

This directive comes after open hostility toward transgender service members from President Trump. On July 26, seemingly out of nowhere, Trump tweeted, "The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." He claimed that the military could not be "burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," despite the fact that medical treatment for trans service members represents a negligible portion of defense spending.

But Trump's tweets did not qualify as official policy changes. A day after Trump's public statement regarding transgender members in the military, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a letter to military commanders stating there would be no modifications in the current policy until the secretary of defense issued new implementation guidelines. "In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," Gen. Dunford wrote.

In response to questions about the emails obtained by Broadly, LTC Paul Haverstick, the Defense Spokesperson at the Pentagon, deferred back to General Dunford's statement and said: "There has been no change in policy related to necessary medical care for service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria." Haverstick clarified to Broadly that the email which was sent to medical chiefs "reflects internal deliberation and not a change in policy."

"DoD is awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the Commander-in-Chief's announcement on military service by transgender personnel," Haverstick said. "DoD will provide an update upon receipt of formal guidance. The Department continues to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect."

The service member whose surgery was cancelled describes the situation as "debilitating."

"I fear for my future career," they said.