"America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception," the White House stated in a press release announcing the order.
"This means no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity," the release continued. "Prospective recruits may serve in their self-identified gender when they have met the appropriate standards for accession into the military services."
“This revised policy will also ensure all medically necessary transition related care authorized by law is available to all Service members,” wrote Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a memo obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough noted that the military would "perform an assessment of the necessary steps to eliminate the exclusion of 'gender alteration' (gender affirmation surgery) in the medical benefits package."
He wrote last month, in a memo ordering a review of the department’s policies and practices, that "Every person at VA, whether a customer or member of VA’s workforce, should be treated with respect and dignity. Our success as a team — our ability to deliver world-class care for our veterans — depends on our respect for our fellow VA employees and the veterans we serve and is critical to everything we do."
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., an Iraq War veteran who describes himself as a supporter of transgender people serving in the military, told the Examiner: "This is radical and new territory for a presidential administration to force taxpayers to fund sexual reassignment surgeries for those in the military. I’m compassionate toward those individuals who want to undergo an elective surgery of this nature, but taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to pay for it. It’s constitutionally dubious that Congress hasn’t passed these measures, but the administration, in a radical way, is pushing through this agenda. I sit on the committee that should debate these issues."
Pink News notes that the military’s health insurance provider, TRICARE, already covers the cost of hormone therapy and psychological counseling for gender dysphoria and, while they generally do not cover surgery, they do note that "active-duty service members may request a waiver if their provider deems surgery medically necessary."
The Pentagon first paid for gender-reassignment surgery for a transgender soldier in 2017, and has paid $8 million to treat 1,525 transgender troops between 2016 and 2019. Most of that cost covered psychological counseling and not surgical operations related to transitioning. A total of 161 surgeries were performed during that time, according to data provided by USA Today in 2019.