Transgender Veterans

Trans Lifeline is a non-profit dedicated to the well being of transgender people. The Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs members of our community might have.

This is a FREE helpline run by volunteers and supported by the community.

This line is primarily for transgender people experiencing a crisis. This includes people who may be struggling with their gender identity and are not sure that they are transgender. While the Lifeline’s goal is to prevent self harm, they welcome the call of any transgender person in need. The Trans Lifeline will do its very best to connect them with services that can help them meet that need. If you are not sure whether you should call or not, then please call us at 1-877-565-8860.

Trangender Servicemembers & VeteransThe New DADT

In December 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the bill that would repeal the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). On September 20, 2011, DADT repeal was put into effect thereby allowing Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) Servicemembers to serve openly. By repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the country and military took a step towards equality for all who serve their country.

However, while the U.S. joined the ranks of nations allowing open service for LGB Servicemembers, there remains an important part of the military population forced to remain silent: Our Transgender Servicemembers. Our Transgender brothers and sisters continue to serve in silence even in this recent era of enhanced military equality.

Quick Facts 

  • About one in 11,000 male babies and one in 30,000 female babies are born with gender identity disorder.
  • There are approximately 700,000 Transgender adults in the U.S., and about 15,450 service members who identify as transgender — 8,800 active, 6,650 in the National Guard and reserves, and 134,350 veterans.
  • About 20% of the roughly 700,000 Transgender people in the United States have been a part of the military at some point in time. Transgender folks have served in every conflict in our nation’s history.
  • One in five Transgender adults have served in the Armed Forces.
  • Nearly one in ten Transgender Veterans report having been discharged due to their gender identity.
  • Transgender people make up 0.6% of the 21.8 million U.S. Veterans; roughly 1 in 200.
  • As of December 2013, being Transgender in the U.S. military is considered a psychological disorder and is grounds for dishonorable discharge.
  • In 2013, the Veterans Affairs Department treated 2,567 Veterans with the diagnosis of gender dysphora with transgender-specific care, according to Ndidi Mojay, a V.A. spokeswoman.

Transgender Defined

The term “transgender” is the broad umbrella under which several different groups of individuals may identify, including those seeking partial or full physical alteration of their birth sex.  This means the state of one’s gender identity does not match up to one’s birth gender. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender folks may identify as straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual or asexual. The definition is changing but includes:

  • “Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.”- Wikipedia
  • “People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.”- Wikipedia
  • “Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.” – Wikipedia

Issues Can Arise

Transgender Servicemembers and Veterans can experience problems at several points. This can occur during the time of enlistment, appointment or commissioning in the Armed Forces, and for personnel already serving in the military.  Additionally, for those Transgender Servicemembers who may wait to begin transition after they leave the ranks of the military, they can experience issues when applying for or receiving benefits and medical care from places like the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) as well updating any paperwork or ID documents.

As A Servicemember

Because the U.S. military has a binary view of gender, Transgender individuals seeking enlistment, appointment, or commissioning could experience issues resulting in disqualification for entry into the ranks.

  • “Major abnormalities and defects of the genitalia.”
  • “Transsexualism” and “transvestism” as disqualifying “psychosexual conditions.”

As of this writing, the U.S. military continues to strictly regulate uniform and grooming standards by gender. Wearing clothing the military does not consider gender-appropriate is considered “cross-dressing.” This is generally addressed in regulations governing conduct. In addition, Transgender persons in the inactive reserve, who are in the process of transition, may be confronted with the need to stop the process if they are recalled. Even post-transitioning reservists may be medically disqualified for continued service once they are called back to active duty and medically examined.

A Transgender Servicemember cannot receive transition-related services because the U.S. military does not recognize Transgender status within the scope of gender binaries. Discharges are classified as administrative rather than medical since “sexual gender and identity disorders” do not qualify for disability under Department of Defense (DoD) regulations. The character of a Servicemember’s discharge can directly affect their access to VA benefits and medical care in the future.

Discharged Veterans, with an other than honorable or dishonorable discharge, may be able to upgrade or change their discharge status. Organizations such as the OutServe-SLDN can help in this process.

In sharp contrast, while Transgender people are prohibited from serving openly in the United States, thirteen foreign countries allow open transgender military service, in some capacity. These countries are:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • Israel
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom
  • Uruguay

These countries take the approach that as long as a person can perform the duties of their job, a person should be able to serve. They have policies which are effective and in place. Studies have shown that their militaries operate effectively.

As A Veteran

A Transgender Servicemember who enters Veteran status may experience issues relating to information contained on their discharge paperwork -DD-214. This form is issued to each servicemember upon discharge. The paperwork carries no gender marker, however, it does list legal name at the time of enlistment. This cannot be changed due to the information being considered true and factual at the time of service.  The inability to obtain military records that do not list a former name creates problems in gaining employment among many others areas. Beyond that, it violates the Veteran’s privacy.

Upgrading Your DD Form 214

Some Transgender Veterans have successfully amended their previous name listing on their DD-214 form. This has been achieved with filing a DD-215 form, which lists changes to the DD-214.  Currently, DoD policy doesn’t allow for the removal of a former name from the discharge paperwork. However, an addendum can be included and explain that there has been a legal name change. In turn, it will help the Veteran have an easier time accessing benefits and connecting their service to their current name. Such an example would be accessing education and healthcare benefits as well as VA home loan.

In order to obtain the DD-215 form, the Veteran will need to submit a written request. This request is sent to the Veteran’s former branch of service. They will need to apply to the review board for their respective service branch for corrections or changes.

Update Feb 2015Recent litigation has made it possible for Veterans to change their name on the DD-214 form. The Transgender American Veteran Association (TAVA) has released on their website a comprehensive guide to updating one’s name on their DD-214 paperwork: Military Records Resource Jan 2015 FINAL. TAVA has downloadable PDFs on their website for ease of access to documents ranging from healthcare, DD-214s, and VA complaint forms.

Copies of the Military Law Working Group Report, outlining the legal path forward for issuance of correct DD-214 paperwork, is available online at www.LGBTBar.org; find the report here…

Changing Gender Status in DEERS 

As of May 2013, there have been major strides made with DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System) and changing gender for Veterans. DEERS is a computerized database of military sponsors, families and others worldwide, who are entitled under the law to TRICARE benefits. This is the same system used to generate a DoD/Uniformed Services ID and Privilege Card. Recent updates for gender change in DEERS may be accomplished by the Veteran/retiree submitting select documents:

  • Surgeons letter confirming gender reassignment surgery
  • A court order, legally changing the gender in accordance with applicable state laws
  • An original birth certificate
  • A document, reflecting the sponsor’s name and if applicable, gender following completion reassignment for a spouse

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the Transgender Healthcare Directive

Even though current policy doesn’t allow the VA to provide or fund sex reassignment surgery, Transgender Veterans have received more coverage within the VHA. This is especially the case since the Department of Veteran Affairs released a Transgender Healthcare Directive in June 2011. It articulates a policy of fair and equal treatment for Transgender Veterans at VA’s nationwide.

UPDATE – 23 JUN 2017: The VA released VA Handbook 5975.4, Transgender Employee Transition Guidance, a step-by-step guide on how to help a VA employee successfully transition at work including changing one’s name, implementing dress code, usage of leave including FMLA, and benefits. The handbook also provides detailed guidance on how to support a VA employee going through or who has completed a transition while in the midst of the hiring process. Click here for the handbook…

Under the policy, Transgender patients and Intersex individuals are provided all care included in VA’s medical benefits package, including, but not limited to: hormonal therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation, and medically necessary post-operative and long-term care following sex reassignment surgery to the extent that the appropriate health care professional determines that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally-accepted standards of medical practice.

The VHA directive was updated and released earlier this year. It includes an official FAQ document that provides helpful clarification on patients’ rights to be treated according to their gender identity for purposes of pronouns, restroom access, and room placements, as well as on how to update gender markers in VHA patient records. There is also additional guidance for VHA health care providers who may be treating a transgender or intersex patient for the first time.  While the directive doesn’t create any new benefits, it does guarantee that Transgender Veterans have protections, are treated with respect and that all their personal information is kept confidential and consistent with their identity when it comes to the VA.

Changing Gender Markers and the VA

As of March 2012, Transgender Veterans are able to change the gender marker on their VA medical records by providing a physician’s letter confirming gender reassignment.  The physician must certify that the Veteran has changed genders and has had appropriate clinical care for transition. The letter does not need to explain in detail nor state that a surgery or other medical procedure has been performed or completed. The only words needed are “appropriate clinical care for the individual veteran as determined by the physician.”  This is similar to the format used by Social Security, DMV, and the U.S. State Department for changing gender markers.

 Resources