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I was pretty much not around the site yesterday.  I could attribute that in part to it being Monday which is always a busy day in my classes at the college where I teach.  But in reality, I was testing in two of my three classes, so it was definitely not a busy day.

No.  Really the reason I spent most of my time elsewhere was because it was Veteran's Day.  I served as a Spec-5 Correctional Specialist at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth during the Vietnam Era…and was part of a the Prisoner Pay Unit of the Ft. Leavenworth Finance Office that earned a Presidential Commendation from Richard Milhouse Nixon for its work diminishing the backlog of prisoner pay and benefit records.

It's not really that I am not proud of my service.  It is rather the case that since I am now transgender, having transitioned from male to female in the early 1990s…two decades after having performed my service to my nation…my nation is not proud of me for having done it.

Studies consistently show that transpeople serve in the military at rates far outpacing the general population.  Injustice at Every Turn, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, revealed that 19.5% of the 6456 transgender respondents had served in the military.  A bit more than 10% of the general population are veterans, with the rate diminishing over time (In 2012, a Gallup Poll came up with 12.7%).

And some transgender people are still Serving in Silence despite the abolishment of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Transgender people are specifically excluded…not through legal act of Congress, but through military regulation…from openly serving in the US military, which considers us both physically and mentally unsuitable for service.

Transgender veterans are at a greater risk of falling straight through what remains of the American Safety Net than our civilian transgender counterparts, being more likely to have suffered job loss or harassment on the job,, more likely to have been evicted from our housing due to bias, and more likely to have experienced discrimination in healthcare.

A large part of the reason for that disparity is the difficulty transgender veterans have in updating military service records with new names and gender markers.

Gender-identity may be an uncomfortable topic for any nation to grapple with; much more for a hyper-masculine institution like the U.S. Military led by a collection of male Vietnam-era officers.  On Veterans Day, we must realize that the question here isn’t whether or not transgender Americans should serve, just like the question on DADT was not whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve; nor was it ever a question of whether women should be allowed to serve in combat positions.  These demographics are already serving, and doing so in dangerous situations on behalf of our country.  The question is how do we accommodate their unique situations to make sure their mental and physical well-beings are considered.

Within its ongoing efforts to fight military sexual assault and harassment, the military could include the issue of harassment and assault of service members who are perceived as gender nonconforming. The majority of these service members don’t embrace their transgender identities till after military service, so the responsibility in caring for these veterans will lie in the hands of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Potential accommodations could include ensuring that transgender veterans can easily change their name and gender marker on their military records and of course, making sure doctors take a greater role in comprehensive and respectful care to transgender veterans.

When researching this article, I expected many of peers from the service to shudder at the thought of a transgender soldier, even one who hadn’t yet transitioned, in their ranks. I greatly underestimated them. This generation of serviceman is far more accommodating of gender and sexual orientation; but more importantly, my fellow veterans seemed to share an understanding that we live in a nation where less than half of a percent of us will ever don the uniform. In a community that small, we’re still a family–still a unit–and we care for each other, regardless of what our private lives may entail: such is the true manner of honoring our veterans.

--Rajiv Srinivasan, Time Ideas

The Defense Department's discharge paperwork, known as the DD-214, is used to obtain employment preferences and veterans' benefits such as medical and dependent benefits, up to and including funeral benefits.  And that form is nearly impossible to have amended.

 photo Paula_Neira_zpsd17b2e48.jpg

It opens you up to abject discrimination.

--Paula Neira, Navy veteran

Neira had two job offers withdrawn when employers learned she was transitioning.  And when she dies, she wants to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with both her parents.
When I die, I want my correct name on my tombstone.  I can clearly see some bureaucrat saying, 'Well the name on the DD-214 is Paul,' when my survivors have to demonstrate my eligibility to be there.

--Neira

Neira and others are calling on the Obama administration to allow transgender veterans the opportunity to change our DD-214's to reflect our current legal name and gender.  They are working with the National LGBT Bar Association.

I hereby add my name to that chorus.

It is the record of your active duty service.  It lists your military specialties and qualifications, any military awards … and displays the characteristics of your service, honorable or conditions other than honorable.
Transgender veterans may be denied access to benefits when their state identification and/or revised birth certificates do not match the information on their DD-214.  At the very least it may require transgender veterans to publicly out themselves to officials, which can be an embarassing…and sometimes dangerous…situation.
I believe this is a no-brainer.  I believe the Department of Defense wants to do everything possible for those who have worn the uniform with honor and distinction and have sacrificed for our country.

It's simple, and there is less paperwork.

Paula is a very modest woman.  She drove ships in the Navy and then went to law school and was one of the top in her class. … She is an extraordinary example of a veteran of the armed services, and now she is using her nursing degree to help people.

--D'Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association

Defense Department spokesperson Ly. Col. Cathy Wilkinson says there are no plans to change current policy.
It's a historical document that reflects a summary of military service.

--Wilkinson

Kemnitz notes that the Air Force allows such revision, while the other branches do not.
They have set the right tone and the way forward.  We want the other branches to do it -- one uniform way.

--Kemnitz

It is estimated that 140,000 of the nation's 26 million veterans are transgender.  That is probably an underestimate since many transgender Americans are closeted….for good reason.
Frankly, we don't know how many they are.  But we know in the armed services there are a disproportionate number of individuals [who are transgender].  If you are questioning your gender, where else do you find clarity?

If you are a woman in the military, they tell you how to wear your hair.  If you are a man, they tell you how long it has to be and if you can have facial hair.  They tell you what your gender is.

--Kemnitz

Neira graduated from Annapolis in 1985 and was questioning her gender even then…but not her commitment to the military.  She was a lieutenant in a warfare task group that cleaned sea mines out of the northern Persian Gulf…earning three Navy commendation medals, an achievement medal, and other service ribbons.
I knew something was different -- I had an inkling.  I felt female, but was not ever able to accept it.

--Neira

She knew that she would have to deal with her gender problem, but that would mean she would be thrown out of the Navy.
You are going to be discharged.  You don't have the ability to ask for help.  You have to hide it from the government.

--Neira

That's because the military labels being transgender or intersex as "psychosexual conditions" which are medical disqualifications.
The hardest decision I ever made was leaving the Navy.  Accepting myself as a female and dealing with transition was easier than having to give up my calling.

Originally posted to TransAction on Tue Nov 12, 2013 at 04:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Voices on the Square, LGBT Kos Community, and Military Community Members of Daily Kos.

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