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Transgender people free to enlist in US military starting in 2018


By Jamie Crawford

(CNN) -- The Pentagon said Monday that it will begin processing transgender applicants to the military on January 1.

That development follows an earlier ruling by a federal judge on Monday who declined the US government's request to put on hold an order allowing transgender individuals to join the military beginning in January. The decision means transgender people will be free to enlist in the new year.

"In sum, having carefully considered all of the evidence before it, the Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by allowing the accession of transgender individuals into the military beginning on January 1, 2018," Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in her ruling.

"As required by recent federal district court orders, the Department of Defense recently announced it will begin processing transgender applicants for military service on January 1, 2018. This policy will be implemented while the Department of Justice appeals those court orders," the Defense Department said in a written statement.

The Pentagon said it was already following a court ruling last week and is "planning to prepare to access transgender persons," as of January 1, US Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a written statement following the ruling.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Department of Justice is "reviewing the legal options" on court ruling on transgender Americans serving in the military.

"They are simply complying with a court order and preparing to implement a previous policy to remain in compliance. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the legal options to ensure that he President's directive can be implemented," Sanders said.

Last week the Pentagon said it had established a panel of experts to propose recommendations on the issue of accepting transgender recruits following a series of rulings in federal court regarding the administration's policy to prohibit transgender recruits.

"The Deputy Secretary of Defense and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported by a panel of experts, will propose consideration recommendations supported by appropriate evidence and information for the accession of transgender persons into the military," Eastburn said in a written statement last week.

That came just as the Justice Department asked a federal judge last Wednesday to put on hold her order requiring the military to begin allowing transgender recruits on January 1, while the department appealed her ruling to a higher court.

So far, two federal judges have blocked key provisions of President Donald Trump's prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the military, which was announced in August.

Last month, Marvin Garbis in Maryland wrote in a 53-page ruling that currently serving transgender service members were "already suffering harmful consequences" and prohibited the administration "from blocking those challenging the ban from completing their medically necessary surgeries."

Another federal judge had blocked portions of Trump's directive in October.

A sworn statement from Lernes J. Hebert, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy said ordering the policy to go into effect January 1 "will impose extraordinary burdens on the Department."

He argued in part that if the department were compelled to accept transgender recruits, "applicants may not receive the appropriate medical and administrative accession screening necessary for someone with a complex medical condition. As a result, an applicant may be accessed for military service who is not physically or psychologically equipped to engage in combat/operational service."

In his statement last week, Eastburn said the panel, which would operate per the recent court rulings, will issue findings based on "multiple considerations including military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law."

Shortly after Trump's directive in August, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he would work with a panel of experts to recommend how the military should put the administration's transgender guidance into effect.

Once that panel concludes, Mattis will provide his advice to Trump on how to implement his policy direction. That new policy is expected to be announced by March.

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