Hagel willing to reconsider transgender ban

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday that he was open to reviewing the ban on transgender people serving in the military.

“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m open to that.”

Hagel did not indicate whether he believes the policy should be overturned. However, he said “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

Since the 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay and lesbian troops from serving openly, transgender advocates have called on the Pentagon to expand such opportunities. Transgender people remain barred from the military.

The National Center for Transgender Equality applauded Hagel’s remarks.

“This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” Executive Director Mara Keisling said.

Military medical rules barring transgender members “are based on prejudices and stereotypes about who transgender people are and need to be updated to comport with modern medical science,” Keisling said.

Keisling said a survey by the NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force showed that one-fifth of all transgender adults are veterans, making transgender people approximately twice as likely as others to serve in the military.

A transgender individual is someone who has acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or presents themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

Hagel also said the care given to veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs is “not good enough,” but he offered support for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has rejected calls to resign. The American Legion and some Republicans have called for Shinseki to step down after reports that up to 40 veterans died waiting for appointments or specialist care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.

Hagel acknowledged that problems with the VA began before Shinseki took over the agency, but he added that if the allegations in Phoenix are true, “accountability is going to have to be upheld.”

Asked about VA care for veterans that includes an average wait of five months, Hagel said, “No, it’s not good enough, obviously. It has to be better.”