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Top Military Leaders Say There Are No Current Changes For Transgender Service Members

"We will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Posted on July 27, 2017, at 11:42 a.m. ET

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Leaders of several branches of the military have said that transgender service members will continue to serve and receive health care until further notice, according to memos sent out by leadership on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, said in a letter on Thursday that there will be no changes for transgender personnel until the president sends further guidance, adding, "We will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Letters from Army and Navy leaders echoed that message that all service members should "be treated with dignity and respect."

"There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance," Dunford's letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says.

The Department of Defense referred BuzzFeed News to the White House for further comment. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the letters. On Wednesday, the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions to the Department of Defense.

During Thursday afternoon's press briefing, Huckabee Sanders was asked whether the president plans to issue further guidance and how that could affect transgender troops already serving in the military. She did not offer more specifics.

"As I said yesterday, the White House will work with the Department of Defense and all of the relevant parties to make sure that we fully implement this policy moving forward and do so in a lawful manner," she said.

Pressed on how and when the policy will be implemented, and whether the President plans to issue a policy directive beyond his tweets, Huckabee Sanders responded, "Well, like I said, they are going to have to work out the details on how that all moves forward to lawfully implement that policy change from this point."

In a letter to all Air Force personnel on Thursday morning, Air Force Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein quoted the Joint Chiefs of Staff email and reiterated that no changes would take effect until further guidance comes down from the president.

"Secretary Wilson and I would like to emphasize that all Airmen will be treated with dignity and respect as we work through the potential policy changes referenced by the Chairman in his message below to military members."

The head of personnel for the US Navy also wrote in a letter to naval leaders that transgender service members in the Navy will continue to serve "until further guidance from the President is received."

"OSD (and by extension Navy) will not take any personnel actions or change any policy until further guidance from the President is received," wrote Navy Chief of Personnel Robert Burke on Wednesday evening in an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The letters come after the president announced on Twitter yesterday that transgender people will be banned from serving in the military entirely. Military leaders are working to decipher how and when that ban, which was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats yesterday, will be implemented.

Health care for transgender service members will also not be impacted for the moment, according to Burke's letter.

"If a member is receiving medical care, that does not cease. Currently-serving TG Service members will continue to receive all necessary medical care," the letter says.

"Treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our Sailors at all times," Burke continues, adding that the Office of the Secretary of Defense is "working to quickly discern the President's intent."

On Wednesday afternoon, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White released a statement saying the Department of Defense is "awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the commander-in-chief's announcement on military service by transgender personnel."

"We will provide detailed guidance to the department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented. The department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect," the statement read.

Here's the full text of Dunford's letter on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

From: CJCS
To: Service Chiefs, Commanders, and Senior Enlisted Leaders

I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the President. There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.

In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.

The full text of Goldfein's letter to Air Force personnel:

To All Airmen,

Secretary Wilson and I would like to emphasize that all Airmen will be treated with dignity and respect as we work through the potential policy changes referenced by the Chairman in his message below to military members.

[Quotes Joint Chiefs of Staff message.]

David L. Golfein, Gen, USAF
21st Chief of Staff

And the text of Burke's letter to Navy leaders:

From: Burke, Robert P VADM CNP, N1

Sent: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 6:48:42 PM (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)

Subject: Transgender Military Service Policy Change Announcements - Talking Points

Admirals,

I recognize that today's announcements regarding changes to the transgender (TG) military service policy are causing concern for some of our Sailors and that they likely have questions. While I won't be able to answer many of them, I wanted to provide you the latest information we have, to help you and your commanders best advise those Sailors.

The official OSD statement follows: "We refer all questions about the President's statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future."

Based upon discussions with OSD staff today, who are working with the White House staff on specific guidance, the following direction was provided to the Services:

- OSD (and by extension Navy) will not take any personnel actions or change any policy until further guidance from the President is received.
- If a member is receiving medical care, that does not cease. Currently-serving TG Service members will continue to receive all necessary medical care.
- With regard to implications for those currently serving, OSD is working to quickly discern the President's intent.
- Treating service members with dignity and respect is something we expect from our Sailors at all times.

We recommend that you refer any transgender policy or individual Sailor case questions to our Navy Service Central Coordination Cell (SCCC). We still have the SCCC in operation and they are fielding queries. The SCCC can be reached via e-mail on the NPC LGBT Resources web page or via Navy 311 (see below for full contact details).

We are not planning to launch a NAVADMIN, or revise any other policy direction, until formal OSD guidance is promulgated.


Nancy Youssef contributed to this report.

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