Taxpayers Pay for Military Service Member's Sex Reassignment Surgery for First Time

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis awaits the arrival of Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., August 8, 2017.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis awaits the arrival of Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., August 8, 2017. | (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The Department of Defense has announced that it will pay for an active-duty service member's gender reassignment surgery, marking the first time since the Obama administration opened the door for transgender individuals to openly serve in the United States military that the Pentagon will pay for such a procedure.

As first reported by BuzzFeed News, the Pentagon released a statement Tuesday announcing that the service member in question received a sex reassignment procedure at a private hospital.

"This afternoon, an active-duty military member received a sex-reassignment surgery. Military hospitals do not have the surgical expertise to perform this type of surgery, therefore it was conducted in a private hospital," a statement attributed to Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White, reads.

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"Because this service member had already begun a sex-reassignment course of treatment, and the treating doctor deemed this surgery medically necessary, a waiver was approved by the director of the Defense Health Agency. The Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with the Department's interim guidance on transgender Service Members."

A source close to the matter told NBC News that the service member is an infantry soldier that identifies as female. The service member also participated in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002.

The service member's waiver request was approved by Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, who heads the agency that provides medical care to military personnel.

The news of the reassignment surgery comes after President Donald Trump issued a guidance in August that reversed the Obama-era policy and barred transgenders from openly serving in the military. The guidance also banned military-funded sex reassignment surgeries and guidance gave the Pentagon six months to implement.

In late August, Secretary of Defense James Mattis created an expert panel to examine how to best implement the president's guidance. As the panel examines the guidance, transgender service members have been allowed to continue serving.

The guidance has come under much scrutiny from the LGBT community and has already been partially blocked by a federal judge.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia,  ruled in late October that the administration's basis for the transgender ban was unconstitutional because it was a "disapproval of transgender people generally."

"There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effective on the military at all," the judge wrote in a 76-page ruling. "In fact, there is considerable evidence that it is the discharge and banning of such individuals that would have such effects."

The judge also argued that the proposed policies likely violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"[T]he sheer breadth of the exclusion ordered by the directives, the unusual circumstances surrounding the President's announcement of them, the fact that the reasons given for them do not appear to be supported by any facts, and the recent rejection of those reasons by the military itself — strongly suggest that Plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claim is meritorious," the ruling reads.

While the judge's ruling was celebrated by LGBT activists and allies on the left, social conservatives leaders who initially called on the Trump administration to reverse the transgender policy enacted by Obama's Secretary of Defense Ash Carter have called the judge's ruling an example of "judicial activism."

"The president has the primary task of protecting Americans but we see the courts weakening his immigration policies designed to protect America from threats and now telling the commander-in-chief how to run the military," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

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