Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Do Chelsea Manning Treatments Mean for Transgender Troops?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Do Chelsea Manning Treatments Mean for Transgender Troops?

Article excerpt

Chelsea Manning, a United States Army soldier serving a 35-year sentence for her role in providing classified documents to WikiLeaks, will now be able to receive hormone therapy at Fort Leavenworth.

It represents a considerable shift for the US military to provide this treatment for Ms. Manning, who identifies as transgender and sued the government to be able to have access to the hormone therapy in order to transition from a man, formerly known as Bradley, to a woman.

The decision speaks to changes that advocacy groups say they see at the Pentagon.

Though transgender troops are currently banned by the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that he believes the policy should be reviewed. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told USA Today that she believes the ban on transgender troops is likely to be reassessed and should be lifted.

And Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says she has witnessed openness to thinking about the issue in new ways at lower levels.

"We had a phone call here a few weeks ago from a commanding officer, saying, 'We have our first openly trans person in our unit, and we want to do right by them, and we don't understand everything, so help us,' " she says. "It's a fairly common employer call."

A report written by former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and sponsored by an advocacy group estimated that there are some 15,000 transgender troops currently serving.

The decision involving Manning does, however, point to inconsistencies in Pentagon policy. While the Pentagon does not pay for hormone therapy for troops, the Department of Veterans Affairs does cover costs for veterans who qualify, though it will not pay for sexual reassignment surgery.

"So if you're in the service and you're a prisoner, you can qualify for this health care. But if you're not a prisoner and you're in the service, and your doctor says you need this, you can get thrown out of the military," Ms. Keisling notes.

Since arriving to begin serving her prison term at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning's "top priority" has been advocating for "her medically necessary health care," says Chase Strangio, Manning's attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. …

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