Famed Kinsey Institute wins grant to study transgender issues in the military

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Brandon J. Hill. - PHOTO: Courtesy Kinsey Institute

Researchers at The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University-Bloomington won a two-year grant to study the medical accommodation and care of transgender servicemembers in the U.S. military

The institute announced the grant on Aug. 22, the same day that Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the soldier convicted and sentenced in the WikiLeaks case, officially came out as transgender and announced her plans to begin hormone therapy.

The institute said the study, "Understanding Aspects of Transgender Medical Accommodation and Care in the U.S. Military," will include an overall investigation of military polices on transgender identity and inclusion, and how they fit with current medical understanding and professional standards of care for transgender health.

The study also will examine the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' inclusion of transition-related mental health care and hormone therapy for transgender veterans.

"Some research findings and clinical observations have suggested that the rates of veteran status among the transgender community may be elevated compared to the general public," said Brandon J. Hill, research associate at the institute. "You can even see cases in the media, like Kristin Beck 'Warrior Princess,' a former Navy SEAL, interviewed on the 'Today' show, and soldier Chelsea Manning, recently convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks; there seems to be an ongoing connection between the transgender community and U.S. military."

The investigators, Hill and Joshua Trey Barnett, an IU graduate student, will assess medical needs and accommodations of transgender servicemembers and veterans and examine the impact of this care on long-term health outcomes and the discrimination issues facing transgender service members and veterans.

Hill and Barnett will gather through interviews the stories, experiences, challenges and complexities of transgender servicemembers and veterans who have transitioned during active duty or who have accessed medical treatment and care from either the VA or private health care providers after military service.

In addition to reflecting on their previous experiences, participants will have an opportunity to comment on what an ideal medical care system would make available to transgender service members and veterans.

"This project is situated at a unique intersection regarding transgender care, with current military policies not allowing transgender-identified servicemen and servicewomen to serve openly, even in light of ‘don't ask, don't tell’ being repealed, and the fact that the medical community is shifting transgender care away from a pathology model," Hill said. "Even the VA now covers the cost of transgender transition-related mental health services and hormone therapy for eligible veterans. Clearly, there is a disjuncture between military policies, transgender health standards of care and the VA's policies on how to best treat America's transgender service members."

The project is commissioned by the Palm Center, a research institute focusing on policy related to gender, sexuality and the military.