The U.S. Army senior leaders on Wednesday defended the rights of a soldier who recently received gender-reassignment surgery amid ongoing debate over whether transgender troops should be allowed to continue to serve in the military.
The surgery was done in a civilian hospital in Pennsylvania and was paid for by the military's health coverage because the doctor deemed it was medically necessary, Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told defense reporters.
A waiver was approved for the surgery; waivers are routine for procedures that military facilities aren't able to perform, Pentagon officials say.
The soldier declared transgender "status back in August of 2016," said McCarthy, who added that he became aware of the case today.
- Transgender Service Member Gets Gender Reassignment Surgery
- Transgender Ban – How Does It Affect Troops And Veterans
- Trump Tells Mattis to Indefinitely Ban Transgender Recruits
The Obama administration last year eliminated the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. But President Donald Trump in August formally directed the Pentagon to extend the ban. He gave officials six months to determine what to do about those currently serving.
"This process is still ongoing," McCarthy said. "We have a legal track; we have an internal policy formulation, [but] we still have a ways to go in this process."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he wanted to make it clear that the Army, or any other branch of the U.S. military, does not discriminate against any individual who can meet the standards required to serve.
"We all -- everyone in uniform -- we took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and embedded within that Constitution is an idea that says that 'you and I, no matter whether you are male or female or gay or straight or anything else; whether you are black or you are white or whether you are Protestant or you are Catholic or you're a Jew or you're a Muslim or you don't believe at all ... none of that matters," Milley said.
"In America, every single person, regardless of who you are or what your last name is, is created free and equal.
"That is what we adhere to in the Military; it's based on standards. If you meet the standard -- great, if you don't, then thank you very much for your interest and do something else. That is the message and it has been the message for going on two years or more for the United States Military and that is kind of where we all stand, I believe, from Chairman Dunford on down."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.