We cut through the hype to understand the real effects a transgender ban will have.
You may know that President Trump recently signed a Presidential Memorandum prohibiting transgender citizens from joining the military. Let's look at the details of the memorandum and the existing laws and regulations to explain exactly what it means to everyone concerned.
The Details On The Transgender Memorandum
On June 30, 2016 Defense Secretary Carter announced transgender troops could openly serve in the military, receive gender transition services, and that the military would begin accepting transgender recruits on July 1, 2017.
On August 25, 2017 President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum rescinding that policy. The memorandum said that DOD would stop accepting transgender recruits and end any medical treatments for existing transgender troops on March 23, 2018. The memorandum also directed DOD to decide by February 21, 2018 what fate current transgender troops would face.
Type Of Discharge Is The Key To Benefits
Before I start guessing what will happen, let me state that I am not a lawyer (however, I was a sea-lawyer in a previous life), so understand that I am just surmising what could possibly happen based on historical facts and existing regulations.
Trans people are not necessarily homosexual, however many in the military community often paint the entire LGBT community with the same broad brush. Therefore, based on historical data one could safely assume that a person discharged for being transgender would receive similar treatment to those who were discharged in the past for homosexuality.
Before "don't ask, don't tell" was enacted in 1994 most people who were discharged for homosexuality received either a dishonorable or general-dishonorable discharge. This was changed after President Obama rescinded the "don't ask, don't tell" rule in 2011, taking away any detrimental actions against those discharged for homosexuality. This also allowed those discharged earlier to upgrade their discharges to fully honorable.
In the years between the enactment of "don't ask, don't tell" and its repeal most persons discharged for homosexuality received either an under honorable conditions or general-honorable discharge. Of course, this varied by service and command.
In today's social climate I can't see the military reverting to the dishonorable discharge for transgender personnel. Even if the politics of the day call for discharging those military personnel who are transgender, I believe that they would most likely receive some type of honorable discharge.
If there were lots of bad discharges given out there would be lots of lawyering involved on both sides and lots of federal laws would have to change. If we've learned anything from history, it is that passing laws that restrict freedoms don't usually work.
However, we will just have to wait and see what DOD says on this issue.
What Effect Will The Memorandum Have On Veterans?
Of course, a lot of this is up in the air pending DOD's recommendation, but this is what we can surmise based on current military regulations and past actions.
1. VA Disability Benefits
Generally, a veteran must have an "other than dishonorable" discharge to be entitled to VA disability benefits. Therefore, anyone receiving an honorable, general-under honorable, or under honorable conditions discharge is eligible for these benefits. This means that transgender troops will most likely be eligible for VA disability benefits if they are administratively discharged.
There is, of course, an exception to the rule. If a member serves at least one normal enlistment and reenlists, but gets a bad discharge from a later enlistment they are eligible for VA benefits based on their earlier honorable discharge.
2. VA Medical Care
Normally to be eligible for VA medical care, a veteran must have an "other than dishonorable" discharge as above.
However, under a special rule, any veteran with any type of discharge may be eligible for VA medical care as long as they weren't discharged for conscientious objection, desertion, or as a result of general court-martial. The veteran must request a special administrative decision from the VA. But, the VA pretty much gives some level of health care to all veterans who aren't real baddies, that is what they are chartered to do.
Currently, the VA provides gender transition counseling, evaluations for hormone therapy, and evaluations for gender transition surgeries. VA doesn't perform transition surgeries, and doesn't pay for them, but they will provide necessary medical care if complications occur following surgery.
Will this change? I doubt it. If people are discharged from the military for being transgender the VA will be there to take care of them just like they exist to take care of all veterans.
3. GI Bill Benefits
The VA says you must have an honorable discharge and completed a certain amount of active duty service to be eligible for any GI Bill benefits. This may mean that transgender troops who are discharged with a general or under honorable conditions discharge would not get their GI Bill.
But, like above, the exception to the rule about a veteran needing at least one period of honorable service before a bad discharge means that many people may be eligible for GI Bill benefits if they have at least one honorable discharge on record.
4. Civil Service Preference
Civil service employment preference requires at least an under honorable conditions (i.e. an honorable or general) discharge. So transgender troops would most likely be eligible.
5. Retirement Pay
This is the biggie: Imagine an E-7 with 19 years service who is outed as transgender and gets kicked out with 3 months left before retirement. Yep, they would lose all their retirement pay and benefits. Of course, we have all seen high-ranking officers who are "allowed to retire" when they get into trouble. But if they are shy of the magical 20 year mark, both officers and enlisted may really get messed up by this new rule.
Could it happen? Yes, many of us have seen it happen to our servicemates for lesser offenses. If the DOD goes the route of banning all transgender troops and slating them for discharge this could indeed happen on a regular basis.
We will have to wait and see what the DOD says in February of next year. In the meantime we can see that most transgender troops would probably still be eligible for most of their veterans benefits. But much still remains up in the air.