U.S. Defense plan to expand health benefits would help trans service members

     U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to decide soon on the ability of  transgender service members to serve in uniform. The department has also called for expanded health benefits that would cover hormone therapy for trans service members.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to decide soon on the ability of transgender service members to serve in uniform. The department has also called for expanded health benefits that would cover hormone therapy for trans service members. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Technically, trans people are still banned from serving in the military, although the National Center for Transgender Equality estimates more than 15,000 trans people are active in the various branches of the military.

    But at the beginning of the month, the U.S. Department of Defense proposed changes to mental health benefits for service members and their families.

    The proposed changes would not cover gender-reassignment surgery, but would cover all “medically necessary and appropriate” care for trans service members and their families in the treatment of “gender dysphoria.”

    “It’s a sigh of relief, because at the moment, those individuals are having to pay out of pocket for those expenses, for hormone therapy,” said Matt Thorn, the executive director for OutServe-Service Members Legal Defense Network. The proposed changes also signal to him and others in the LGBT military community that the Department of Defense is moving closer to lifting the ban on trans people serving in uniform.

    In an emailed statement, Maj. Benjamin Sakrisson, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said, “There is no correlation between the proposed rule and [Defense Secretary Ash] Carter’s upcoming decision on the ability of transgender service members to serve in uniform.”

    That decision is expected in the spring.

    Rather, he wrote, the change is about updating military health benefits to align with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 “regarding financial requirements, cumulative quantitative treatment limits, and non-quantitative treatment limits.”

    “As long as they’re getting to the end goal where transgender veterans, service members and their families have equal access to the health care that they need,” said Thorn, “I think is the bottom line.”

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