Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military still does not allow people who are transgender to serve. Still, many people only transition after they’ve completed their service, creating complications for their continued receipt of benefits. Now, the Pentagon has recognized its first gender change for a military veteran and established a process — albeit a bit burdensome one — for future trans vets to do the same.
Blogger and activist Autumn Sandeen was informed earlier this month that the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) has been updated to show her gender as female. Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen provided the following statement to BuzzFeed:
For the last several years, the Department has made requested changes to gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) for military retirees. A gender change in DEERS may be accomplished by the retiree presenting the following documents:
- A letter from the doctor who performed the surgery, documenting completion of a gender reassignment surgery
- A court order, legally changing the gender in accordance with applicable state law
- An original birth certificate
- A document, reflecting the sponsor’s name and if applicable, gender following completion of the gender reassignment procedure for a spouse
The Department will not change a gender in DEERS if it results in a loss of benefits to the spouse of the retired member due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The last point is noteworthy, in that the military is committed to making sure retirees receive spousal benefits without conflicting with the limitations of DOMA.
Still, as Sandeen points out on her own post, the hurdles for the gender change are somewhat extensive. The requirement that a trans person complete gender reassignment surgery is problematic because not all trans people want to get such surgery — particularly given sterilization is a consequence — and many cannot afford it. Further, the required birth certificate change is simply not allowed in all states.
Clearly, there are still many changes that need to made to allow trans people full inclusion in military service and the associated benefits, but this is a step in the right direction.