WASHINGTON (CBS News) — The Pentagon expects to renew a ban on transgender individuals joining the military and to consider circumstances in which some currently serving transgender troops could remain in uniform, White House officials said Friday.
The new approach will be based on formal guidance the Pentagon is expecting to receive from the White House, following a presidential memorandum that was signed by President Trump sometime before he departed for Camp David for the weekend.
According to a White House official, the memo gives the Secretary of Defense as well as the Secretary of Homeland Security formal authority to return to the long-standing policy and practice on military service on transgender individuals that was in place prior to June of 2016.
The official said that the White House “coordinated with the DOD and General Counsel’s office” and were “very familiar with the directives and the final text” of the memo.
While the White House official refused to specify whether or not there might be any scenario in which a transgender service member currently in the military could remain in the service, the White House says the Pentagon will decide a best “implementation plan” to address the situation by a deadline of March 23, 2018.
The guidance appears to be less rigid than the complete ban that Mr. Trump announced last month in a tweet. Mr. Trump had said the federal government “will not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military.
The White House official also maintained that this policy decision was based on “national security” considerations, military readiness and effectiveness.
The official said the new guidance is also expected to put a stop to recruitment of transgender individuals and prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for sexual reassignment surgery.
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Only one year ago, in June 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender individuals could serve openly for the first time. Prior to that, most transgender people in the military had been forced to keep their status secret to avoid being discharged. Since Carter’s policy change, some troops – possibly a couple hundred – have openly declared their status as transgender individuals.
Carter also had given the military services until July 1 of this year to present plans for allowing transgender individuals to join the military. Shortly before that date, Mattis extended the study period to the end of this year. And shortly after that, Mr. Trump went to Twitter to announce a total ban, without having used the customary interagency policy process.
At the time of Mr. Trump’s tweet, the Pentagon was not prepared to change its policy. A flurry of White House meetings ensued, with participation by representatives of the Defense Department, to translate Mr. Trump’s announcement into guidance that could be implemented and would stand up to expected legal challenges.
Just last week, Mattis suggested he was open to the possibility of allowing some transgender troops to remain in uniform.
“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” he said Aug. 14. “There’s a host of issues. And I’m learning more about this than I ever thought I would. And it’s obviously very complex, including the privacy issues, which we respect.”
Estimates of the number of transgender troops in the service vary widely. A Rand Corp. study said roughly 2,500 transgender personnel may be serving in active duty, and 1,500 in the reserves. It estimated only 30 to 130 active-duty troops out of a force of 1.3 million would seek transition-related health care each year. Costs could be $2.4 million to $8.4 million, it estimated.
Among those who have cheered Mr. Trump’s tweet, Elaine Donnelly said the president is halting “a massive social experiment.”
“Expensive, lifelong hormone treatments and irreversible surgeries associated with gender dysphoria would negatively affect personal deployability and mission readiness, without resolving underlying psychological problems, including high risks of suicide,” said Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Army combat veteran, said the Pentagon should not exclude people based on gender status.
“If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can do the job, you should be able to serve – no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation,” she said Thursday. “Anything else is not just discriminatory, it is disruptive to our military and it is counterproductive to our national security.”
CBS News’ Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.