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How will lifting the ban on transgender soldiers affect the military?

The Pentagon has lifted its ban on transgender troops. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the move Thursday and officials said health services for trans soldiers, including sexual reassignment surgery, will be covered in 90 days. Of the military’s 1.5 million active duty soldiers, an estimated 2,500 to 7,000 are trans. Hari Sreenivasan talks with John Yang about the historic change.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Last summer, Defense Secretary Carter declared the military's ban on transgender soldiers — quote — "outdated."

    Carter's announcement today that transgender people can serve openly will impact the estimated 2,500 to 7,000 transgender soldiers currently serving, out of a total 1.5 million on active duty. There are between 1,500 and 4,000 transgender reservists.

    Our John Yang has been reporting on the new policy. He joins me now.

    So, what's the big impact, today's announcement?

  • JOHN YANG:

    Well, starting today, transgendered men and women in the services can no longer be kicked out simply for being transgendered.

    The entire policy is going to be phased in over a year, but starting in 90 days, medical services, medical treatments for transgendered service people, hormone treatments, and even sexual reassignment surgery itself will be covered under the military health care system. That's a first. They have had to go outside the system and pay for it themselves until now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of the first things the secretary said in his speech was that he needed access to 100 percent of the population to have the best military possible. What about the impact on are recruiting, recruits?

  • JOHN YANG:

    Recruits now can go in if they are transgendered, if they have had the reassignment surgery, sexual reassignment surgery in the past.

    But they have to certify or have a doctor certify that they have been without distress or impairment for 18 months. Now, this is like any other medical condition. They're trying to cut down on lost duty time. If you have had knee surgery, you have got to show the same proof. If you have had symptoms of depression, you have got to show the same proof. So this is all treating it like any other medical condition now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Why did it take so long since his announcement to now?

  • JOHN YANG:

    It was delayed several months. We don't quite know why. There have been reports about opposition coming from the top ranks of the military worried about unit cohesion, about military preparedness, and effectiveness in battle.

    There have been some retired officers who have been wondering why what they call a social experiment is being done at a time when you have got troops deployed around the world fighting insurgent forces. But Secretary Carter said he spoke to all the uniform chiefs and that they are all on board with this.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, there was also a kind of moral component to what he was saying, that this is the right thing to do.

  • JOHN YANG:

    He quoted the chief of staff of the Army, saying that we are fighting the — the men and women in the armed forces are fighting for people and they're open to any American, and that if they're willing to fight and die for it, they ought to live by it at all.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This comes at a time when even there was a conversation just recently about the Marines taking gender-based titles out of their force. Right? This is an active conversation that is happening in the military right now.

  • JOHN YANG:

    I mean, this is something, we think about it, in the last five years, you have had the military open up to gays serving in the military serving openly in the military, women in combat roles, and now transgendered men and women serving openly in the military.

    This has been a huge social change in a rather tradition-bound and rather rigid — or thought of as being rigid institution.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And in a relatively short period of time.

    John Yang, thanks so much.

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