Online Extra: Political Notes: Congresswoman pushes change to benefit trans vets
by Matthew S. Bajko
Transgender service members would find it easier to update their names on documents required to receive their veteran benefits under a change being pushed by a Bay Area congresswoman.
It would also assure their correct names appear on their military gravestone.
A House committee last week passed an amendment, authored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 that allows for name changes on discharge documents for transgender veterans. The full House is expected to vote on the NDAA Wednesday, May 13.
"Our transgender veterans deserve to have accurate military documents that don't force them to come out with every job, college, and mortgage application," stated Speier. "A name change is so simple, and it's the least we can do for their service to our nation. I am confident that we can provide the estimated 134,000 American trans veterans with the respect they deserve."
Nor should transgender veterans "have to worry about what name will appear on their tombstone," added Speier.
In a statement emailed to the Bay Area Reporter in response to a request for comment, American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack praised Speier for pushing for the change. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocates on behalf of the partners, spouses, families, and allies of LGBT service members and veterans.
"Our nation's transgender veterans already have enough obstacles in trying to live and work as their authentic selves, and accessing updated military records should not be one of them," stated Broadway-Mack. "We applaud Rep. Speier's commitment to improving the lives of all of our nation's veterans and their families."
According to a fact sheet provided by Speier's office, veterans who change gender identity after leaving the service cannot receive amended discharge documents, or what the Pentagon calls the DD214. Instead, the veteran must get a letter from the Department of Defense to accompany their DD214 that certifies the name on the paperwork has had a name change.
This paperwork, which contains rank attained, as well as awards and commendations received by that service member, is used to obtain many veteran benefits, including employment preferences, educational benefits, special mortgages for veterans, medical benefits, dependent benefits, and even funeral benefits.
In effect, according to Speier's office, the policy forces transgender veterans "to come out again and again because of an outdated paperwork policy."
In addition to the transgender veterans, who account for 20 percent of transgender adults in the country based on the results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, there are believed to be more than 15,000 trans people serving in the military today, in spite of rules forbidding them to serve openly.
"This amendment allows a trans veteran to update their discharge papers to reflect their new name following a change in gender identity or expression," stated Speier. "Currently, our trans veterans are stuck with their old name on discharge papers, a name that can disclose their transgender status whenever referenced."
Speier's office noted that in December, after a complaint by American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Army approved an updated DD214 to a trans military veteran. The Air Force has also made changes for trans veterans in the past.
"This shows our service branches are starting to recognize the importance of uniform, updated paperwork for our trans veterans, but we can't keep going on case by case basis," stated Speier. "We need an official policy for every Board for Corrections of Military Records to recognize name changes for our trans veterans."
Officially, the U.S. military continues to deny transgender people from openly serving. But in recent months both Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who was sworn in to the Cabinet post in February, and the White House have voiced support for lifting the restriction.
Thirteen countries, including Israel, Australia, and Canada, allow trans people to serve in their militaries in some capacity. Out gay and lesbian service members have been able to enlist in the U.S. armed forces since the lifting of the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2011.
A change.org petition urging for the end of the ban on transgender service members – found at https://www.change.org/p/united-states-military-lift-the-ban-on-transgender-people-in-the-military – had close to 2,100 signatures out of a goal of 10,000 as of last week.
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