How To Really Honor Veterans: Extend Benefits to Transgender Vets

Twenty percent of transgendered Americans have served in the military. They deserve the same protections as other vets.

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A gay member of the U.S. Air Force reads a copy of the new magazine "OutServe" intended for actively serving lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender, U.S. military members on Sept. 15, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” many LBGT activists continue to protest against military recruiting because it is still against policy for transgender Americans to serve. This is also a big veterans issue, because as it turns out that transgender vets are actually a not insignificant minority.

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In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey published by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2013, of the 6456 transgender Americans questioned, 20% (1261) reported having served in the military, a rate far higher than in the general population. Those transgender vets are at great risk of falling through the cracks compared to their civilian counterparts. They were more likely to have suffered job loss or harassment in their civilian jobs than non-veterans. Transgender veterans also were more likely to have been evicted from their housing due to bias and to have experienced discrimination in health care.  A significant problem facing transgender veterans is connected to their service-related identity documents.  Ten percent of transgender veterans surveyed stated that they had tried to update their military service forms with their new name and gender marker and were denied.

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Gender-identity may be an uncomfortable topic for any nation to grapple with; much more for a hyper-masculine institution like the U.S. Military led by a collection of male Vietnam-era officers. On Veterans Day, we must realize that the question here isn’t whether or not transgender Americans should serve, just like the question on DADT was not whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve; nor was it ever a question of whether women should be allowed to serve in combat positions. These demographics are already serving, and doing so in dangerous situations on behalf of our country. The question is how do we accommodate their unique situations to make sure their mental and physical well-beings are considered.

Within its ongoing efforts to fight military sexual assault and harassment, the military could include the issue of harassment and assault of service members who are perceived as gender nonconforming. The majority of these service members don’t embrace their transgender identities till after military service, so the responsibility in caring for these veterans will lie in the hands of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Potential accommodations could include ensuring that transgender veterans can easily change their name and gender marker on their military records and of course, making sure doctors take a greater role in comprehensive and respectful care to transgender veterans.

When researching this article, I expected many of my peers from the service to shudder at the thought of a transgender soldier, even one who hadn’t yet transitioned, in their ranks. I greatly underestimated them. This generation of serviceman is far more accommodating of gender and sexual orientation; but more importantly, my fellow veterans seemed to share an understanding that we live in a nation where less than half of a percent of us will ever don the uniform. In a community that small, we’re still a family–still a unit–and we care for each other, regardless of what our private lives may entail: such is the true manner of honoring our veterans.

MORE:  Identity Crisis: Changing Legal Documents No Easy Task for Transgender Individuals