November 15, 2017 02:52 GMT by nytimes.com

Pentagon Approves Gender-Reassignment Surgery for Service Member

Pentagon Approves Gender-Reassignment Surgery for Service Member

The surgery was the latest setback to President Trump’s effort to bar transgender people from serving in the military.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon approved a gender-reassignment surgery for an active-duty military member, defense officials said on Tuesday, four months after President Trump abruptly announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

The surgery is the latest setback to Mr. Trump’s effort to put a ban in place. Two weeks ago, a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban, ruling that the administration’s justification for it was suspect and most likely unconstitutional.

Even before the ruling, officials at the Defense Department had been slow-walking Mr. Trump’s orders, telling transgender members of the military that they could continue to serve openly while the Pentagon decided how to handle the ban.

In announcing the ban in July, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that United States forces could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members. He said he had consulted with generals and military experts, but Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, was given only a day’s notice of the decision.

The RAND Corporation, in a 2016 study, found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon. It estimated that health care costs would rise $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, representing an increase of 0.04 to 0.13 percent in spending. Citing research into other countries that allow transgender people to serve, the study projected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” in the United States.

The sex-reassignment surgery is the clearest sign yet that Mr. Trump’s ban is a long way from being put into effect. Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement that the individual who underwent the surgery had already started a sex-reassignment course of treatment and that the individual’s doctor said the surgery was medically necessary.

“Military hospitals do not have the surgical expertise to perform this type of surgery, therefore it was conducted in a private hospital,” Ms. White said in the statement.

The Defense Health Agency, a division of the Pentagon, granted a waiver allowing the department to cover the cost of the surgery.

The Pentagon’s health insurance program “will cover this surgery in accordance with the department’s interim guidance for transgender service members,” Ms. White said.

A Defense Department official said that the service member who underwent the surgery, earlier reported by NBC News, identifies as a woman. She fought in Afghanistan.

Two organizations representing transgender service members have taken the Trump administration to court over the ban.

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