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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Sunday that he is open to a review of the military’s policy on transgender service members. Hagel also commented on the ongoing scandal within Veterans’ Affairs.
During an interview on ABC News’ This Week, Hagel was asked about transgender service members, who can still be dismissed, even though “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has been stuck down. So, while gay and lesbian service members can serve openly, that is not the same for transgender individuals.
Hagel said that the issue with transgender service members is that there are medical concerns to be aware of, which may be difficult in regions where the military is serving. However, he is ready to review the policies.
“I do think it...continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said. “I'm open to that, by the way. I'm open to those assessments, because, again, I go back to the bottom line. Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
According to the Associated Press, transgender rights groups praised Hagel’s statement.
“If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I've met, he'd understand the answer is self-evident,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the AP. “These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.”
Hagel was also asked about another major topic - the backlog at the VA. Secretary Eric Shinseki has been called on to resign as more instances of delayed medical care become public. Shinseki has refused to resign, insisting that he will review the VA’s policies.
“No, it's not good enough obviously,” Hagel said when asked if we were taking care of our veterans. “It has to be better.”
Hagel later explained, “I don't think it just started with General Shinseki's term at the V.A. ...This is something that should have been looked at years and years ago.” He added, “So, yes, we - we missed it.”