Report: Pentagon’s own data contradicts recommendations on transgender troops

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The Pentagon’s own data contradicts its report that recommends banning most transgender people from military service, according to a new report from three former military surgeons general and three pro-LGBT scholars.

Citing internal Defense Department data they obtained, the authors say transgender troops are no less deployable than their cisgender — that is, not transgender — counterparts despite the assertion otherwise in the Pentagon’s report last month.

“Out of 994 service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria in FY2016 and the first half of 2017, 393 (40 percent) deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn,” the new report says, referring to military operations in the Middle East.

“Exactly one individual deploying with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria was unable to complete the deployment for mental health reasons since policy protecting transgender personnel from arbitrary dismissal was established in June 2016.”

The 56-page report was released by the Palm Center, which researches and advocates issues of gender and sexuality in the military.

It was written by retired Vice Adm. Donald Arthur, former surgeon general of the Navy; retired Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, former surgeon general of the Army; retired Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, who was the Coast Guard’s equivalent of a surgeon general; Nathaniel Frank, director of the What We Know Project at Cornell University; Diane Mazur, legal research director at the Palm Center; and Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center.

Asked Thursday about the data in the Pentagon report compared to the Palm Center study, Defense Secretary James Mattis defended his panel, saying it included combat veterans, the vice chiefs of the military services and the under secretaries of the services and spoke with transgender troops, commanders of transgender troops and civilian and military medical experts.

“My responsibility is to give the best advice I can for making a lethal force,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Last month, President Trump signed a memo banning most transgender people from serving in the military “except under certain limited circumstances.” The memo gave Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees the Coast Guard, “authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”

No new policy can go into effect immediately, as courts have issued preliminary injunctions that require the Pentagon to continue allowing open service while lawsuits work their way through the court system.

Trump’s memo was signed in conjunction with the release of a report Mattis submitted to the president outlining his recommendations on how to handle transgender troops.

Among the issues raised in the Pentagon report was that the time it takes to receive gender-transition related treatment could make those troops unavailable to deploy.

“Although limited and incomplete because many transitioning service members either began treatment before the [open service] policy took effect or did not require sex reassignment surgery, currently available in-service data already show that, cumulatively, transition service members in the Army and Air Force have average 167 and 159 days of limited duty, respectively, over a one-year period,” the Pentagon report says.

But the Palm Center report argues that data has nothing to do with deployability and that it left out Navy data because its policy does not automatically assign limited-duty status to those undergoing gender transition.

“This data was not connected to deployment and did not demonstrate any failure to meet a deployment obligation,” the report says. “What it did demonstrate, however, is the arbitrary way in which separate standards for fitness, targeted specifically against transgender personnel, can make them appear less medically fit and less deployable than their peers.”

The Pentagon also argued that hormone therapy requires quarterly lab monitoring in the first year of treatment as recommended by the Endocrine Society.

But the doctor who wrote the society’s guidelines also wrote the Pentagon a letter in 2015 that said “there is no reason to designate individuals as non-deployable after the commencement of hormone replacement therapy,” according to the Palm Center report. The Pentagon official who received the letter served on both the Obama administration’s panel that created the open service policy and Mattis’s panel, the report adds.

The Pentagon report also cited the fact that service members with gender dysphoria have had an average of nine times more visits to mental health professionals than service members as a whole.

“From October 1, 2015, to October 3, 2017, the 994 active duty service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria accounted for 30,000 mental health visits,” the Pentagon report adds.

The Palm Center researchers, though, said the military has required transgender service members to have unnecessary mental health appointments for what would normally be administrative decisions, such as permission to wear a different uniform.

“A senior military psychologist who has worked with transgender military members confirmed to us that in order to transition gender, a medical team must document several benchmarks of readiness for treatment and also for permission to change one’s gender marker in the military identification system,” the researchers wrote.

“As a result, he explained, many transgender service members may be required to attend multiple, inexpensive support group sessions that are essentially used as ‘ticket-punching’ to verify administrative requirements.”

The Palm Center report also asserted the Pentagon distorted its own data on the suicide rates of transgender troops.

The Pentagon report says that “service members with gender dysphoria are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than service members as a whole (12% versus 1.5%).”

But the researchers said that data actually refers to suicide contemplation, rather than attempts. Further, they argued, the rate of suicide ideation among service members with gender dysphoria is not actually eight times higher than other service members because that data undercounts the rate across the military as it relies on administrative records.

“When DoD used more sophisticated methods to determine rates of suicidality among service members not being treated for behavioral health problems, military researchers determined that 14 percent of service members have had suicidal thoughts at some time in their lives, 11 percent had suicidal thoughts at some point during their military careers, and 6 percent had suicidal thoughts during the past year,” the report says. “Suicide is a military problem. It is not a transgender problem.” 

Tags Donald Trump James Mattis Kirstjen Nielsen
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