For the first time, transgender people will be able to serve openly in the U.S. military.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the policy change on June 30, ending the ban on transgender men and women becoming service members “effectively immediately," according to the Washington Blade.
At a press conference in the Pentagon, Carter told reporters the lifting of the ban will be accompanied by a nine-month implementation plan that would add transgender status to the military's nondiscrimination policy, and expand the military's health care benefits to include gender-reassignment surgery and transition-related care, reports the Washington Blade.
The change in policy comes after a feasibility study, and a push on the part of the White House to accommodate transgender military members.
“As a result of this year-long study, I’m announcing today that we are ending the ban on transgender Americans in the United States military,” Carter said. “Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”
The lifted ban comes a month after the military first announced it was looking at providing sex-reassignment surgeries to transgender veterans as well. The surgeries and transition services would be provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” the Pentagon's proposal reads. “Recent medical research shows that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that has had severe medical consequences for certain patients if transition-related surgeries and procedures are not provided.”
The change was lauded by transgender and LGBT advocacy groups.
“This sets a tone. The [Veterans Administration] is part of the government,” Gene Silvestri, VA coordinator with the American Military Partner Association, told the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll see a change in treatment and culture and acceptance.”
While critics said the move will strain already limited VA and military resources, Carter framed the change as a necessary one for the good of the military and country. Carter said the move will have minimal impact on military readiness, regardless of whether individual military members are temporarily inactive due to gender reassignment surgery.
"The Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible in order to remain what we are now -- the finest fighting force the world has ever known," Carter said on June 30, reports CNN. "We don't want barriers unrelated to a person's qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who can best accomplish the mission. We have to have access to 100 percent of America's population."