Tag Archives: Armed Forces

Q&A: A look at the cancer some believe linked to Vietnam War

A rare bile duct cancer that may be linked to time served in the Vietnam War is quietly killing some former soldiers.

The disease can be caused by liver flukes, a parasite found in raw or undercooked fish that is common in parts of Asia.

Some veterans are fighting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize their disease as service-related so they can receive benefits, but most claims are denied.



Liver flukes are parasites ingested in raw or undercooked freshwater fish. They are endemic in parts of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, along with other areas, mainly in China and South Korea. Some 25 million people are infected with the worms. Liver flukes die when frozen, but they can survive fermentation or pickling. Visitors traveling in endemic areas can also be infected.



Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer that affects the bile duct. Liver flukes are a risk factor; others include hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis and bile duct stones. After the worms are ingested, they can live for more than 25 years in the bile duct, causing inflammation and scarring that can eventually lead to cancer. The disease is difficult to treat, with many victims dying within months of diagnosis. A patient typically does not experience any symptoms, such as jaundice, until the end stages.



Bile duct cancer is unusual because it can be prevented in some cases. Pills can wipe out liver flukes early on, but the medicine is not effective in later stages after the worms have died and scarring has occurred. Surgery is possible in some cases, but the survival rate is only about 30 percent for five years, said Dr. Gregory Gores, a gastroenterologist and executive dean of research at Mayo Clinic. Affected countries, such as Vietnam and Laos, have not conducted extensive research to determine the extent of the problem. The world’s highest rate of cholangiocarcinoma _ about 84 new cases per 100,000 people — is found in northeastern Thailand where many people eat a popular raw fish dish. In the U.S., cholangiocarcinoma is extremely rare, with around 1.7 in 100,000 people diagnosed each year.



Men who served in the Vietnam War and ate raw or poorly cooked fish, sometimes while on patrol in the jungle after their rations ran out, could have been infected by liver flukes. Left untreated, they can experience symptoms related to bile duct cancer decades later. Because the disease is so rare and awareness about liver flukes is poor in the U.S., many veterans may not be aware of the possible connection to their service time.



Each case is examined individually, and it’s up to veterans to prove to the Department of Veterans Affairs that their cancer is “as likely as not” related to their service time. The VA says fewer than 700 cholangiocarcinoma patients have passed through its medical system in the past 15 years. In part because they are unaware of the potential link to their war days, only 307 of the veterans submitted claims for benefits over that period. Even though the VA sometimes approves the link between wartime service and cholangiocarcinoma, the vast majority of claims — 3 out of 4 — are rejected, according to data obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.


DOD removes barriers to transgender troops serving openly

The Defense Department on June 30 announced an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the Armed Forces.

“Today, our nation has taken another important step forward by ensuring that qualified, transgender Americans can openly serve the country they love,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. “Breaking down this barrier is a historic action for transgender service members, who will no longer be forced to serve in silence. I applaud Secretary Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this step to make our Armed Forces stronger and staying true to our American values of fairness and equality for all.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on the last day of LGBT Pride month. He set forth a yearlong process for implementing the DOD’s plan and said “Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so.”

At a news conference, the secretary said, “Our mission is to defend this country and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

By Oct. 1, transgender troops serving in the military will have access to full medical care, including surgery, and begin formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon personnel system.

In a year, Carter said the services would be prepared for transgender individuals to enlist.

The AP reported that people with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who have had reconstruction surgery, may be disqualified as military recruits unless a medical provider certifies they have been clinically stable in their gender for 18 months and are free of significant impairment. Also, transgender troops receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on their medications for 18 months.

The policy provides broad guidelines for transgender service members in active duty. They will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms and fitness standards that correspondence with their gender identity only after they have made a legal transition.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries.

“Today, we join in celebration with the thousands of brave transgender patriots who will now be able to serve our nation openly and with the deep respect they deserve,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Ending this discriminatory policy not only brings long-overdue recognition to transgender service members, it also strengthens our military and our nation. Our military will now be able to recruit the very best candidates, and retain highly-trained, talented transgender service members once facing discharge for no other reason than who they are. History will remember Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this historic and necessary step forward.”

According to the Williams Institute, there are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in America.

Unlike the statutory ban that interfered with lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving — known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the ban on transgender military service was a policy and required only action by the DOD to update.

“Today’s victory is a tremendous one for a nation that once denied women, African-Americans, and gay and lesbian individuals the opportunity to serve,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “An integrated military, now inclusive of all LGBT service members, is not only a sound military approach but a moral imperative for our nation. This was true in 1948, when this country first allowed women and African-Americans to serve in the military; in 2011, when the ban was lifted on gay and lesbian service members; and remains true today.”

DOD to lift transgender military ban by July 1

The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to announce by July 1 an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in our military.

“At long last, thousands of brave transgender patriots will be able to serve our nation openly with the respect they deserve,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a news release. “This historic announcement will not only extend long-overdue recognition to thousands of transgender service members, it will strengthen our military and our nation. By turning the page on this disgraceful policy, we will now be able to recruit and retain the very best candidates, rather than discharging highly-trained, talented transgender service members for no other reason than who they are.”

In July 2015, the Pentagon announced a working group to study how to modify existing regulations to allow open transgender military service.

The working group was expected to complete its review after six months and provide options for how to address the various regulations needed to be updated in order to allow for open service by transgender people.

According to the Williams Institute, there are about 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in the United States.

But Defense Department medical regulations prohibit transgender service and require separation from the military if discovered.

HRC said the outdated regulations have significant implications for military readiness and on the transgender service members who are currently risking their lives around the world — sometimes in combat zones.  A service member who is able to be open and honest about his or her gender identity and receive appropriate care is more productive and more focused on their job.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in armed forces. U.S. service members have been serving alongside their transgender counterparts from these allied forces since at least 2001.

Unlike the now repealed statutory ban against lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, the ban on transgender military service is policy and can be removed by the Defense Department.

“This decision is a great victory for the many trans people who have served and sacrificed in the military over the years. They also served in fear of being discharged from the service for simply being who they are. Thankfully this now will change. We look forward to hearing more implementation details,” said Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

President orders military to review sexual assault

President Barack Obama gave the military a one-year deadline to better prevent and respond to a wave of sexual assault in the ranks and warned that if progress isn’t made, he will consider tougher reforms than those approved by Congress.

The ultimatum from their commander in chief and pressure from lawmakers puts the onus on the Pentagon to live up to its vows of zero tolerance for sexual assault, or face the potential of losing authority to prosecute offenders in its own courts.

“So long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system,” Obama said in a statement issued hours after the Senate sent a bill for his signature that would crack down on the crime.

The president said he wants Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to report back to him by Dec. 1, 2014, on improvements they’ve made preventing and responding to sexual assault.

“If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world,” Obama said in the statement, his first comments in response to sexual assault legislation that has been furiously debated on Capitol Hill in recent months.

The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 military members were victims last year.

The sexual assault measures were part of a sweeping, $632.8 billion bill the Senate passed on an 84-15 vote late Thursday that also covers combat pay and other benefits, new ships and aircraft and military bases. The legislation also:

-Provides $552.1 billion for the regular military budget and $80.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations, a reflection of deficit-driven efforts to trim spending and the drawdown in a conflict lasting more than a decade.

-Gives the administration additional flexibility to move detainees out of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries. It stops well short of the president’s goal of closing the detention facility and bans detainee transfers to the United States.

-Authorizes funds for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria

-Provides money to study the feasibility of establishing a missile defense site on the East Coast.

The legislation would strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. The bill also would provide victims with legal counsel, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, and criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault. The legislation also would change the military’s Article 32 proceedings to limit intrusive questioning of victims, making it more similar to a grand jury.

Obama didn’t specify what other reforms he would consider to address sexual assault if the military review doesn’t meet his standards. The Senate is still debating a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would take away authority for prosecuting accused attackers from military commanders. The White House says Obama hasn’t taken a position on the bill, which has been vigorously opposed by the Pentagon, creating a split within the administration.

Hagel said in a statement shortly after Obama announced his orders that “we share his commitment to doing whatever it takes to solve this problem.” Hagel said he is pleased with the changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that were made by Congress and said he’s already been making some of the changes required.

“Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women, a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force, and we will not allow this to stand,” Hagel said.

The White House said the president remains open to all ideas for reform but that he supports the thrust of the reforms passed by the Senate in Thursday and wants to give them time to work.

Gillibrand said she spoke with Obama about the matter but that she remains committed to earning enough support to pass her legislation, which could come up for a vote as early as next month.

“I do not want to wait another year to enact the one reform survivors have asked for in removing commanders with no legal training and conflicts of interest from the decision of whether or not to prosecute a rape or sexual assault,” she said in a statement. “We have the best fighting force in the world and they deserve a first class justice system. Nowhere in America do we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted or not, except the United States military.”

Presidential aides said the White House will be working with the Pentagon to develop a set of benchmarks so that the military’s review will be rigorous enough to bring about change. They said the review will include all the efforts underway to address the problem, including training and prevention programs and the way the justice system deters the problem and supports victims.

The Pentagon has ordered a host of reviews and studies across the department and military services. In March, Hagel ordered a review of the military’s justice system in connection with sexual assaults. And a month later he laid out a department-wide sexual assault plan to better coordinate the initiatives being launched across the services.

Hagel has been meeting weekly with senior service officers to track the progress of the beefed up training, prevention and treatment programs that the services have put in place over the year. And service members are already taking updated surveys that put increased accountability on commanders to enforce better command climates in their units, including their response to any sexual assault cases.

Senate women unite in fighting sexual assault in military

One by one, the women of the Senate stood up, speaking out about the scourge of sexual assault in the military and their collaborative effort to address the long-neglected issue.

First-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a session earlier this week that it was an issue “that the women of the Senate have really, I think, driven,” not necessarily a woman’s issue, but one of justice and fairness.

With several female colleagues listening, four-term Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hailed the record 20 women in the 100-member Senate, but insisted that history should not be limited to numbers.

“Instead, it is what we do with our newfound strength to address the issues that are impacting women across the country,” said Murray, the head of the Senate Budget Committee.

In speech after speech on the Senate floor, Republican and Democratic women — 10 of the 20 — focused on their unity in trying to force Congress to embrace sweeping changes to the decades-old military justice system as part of the annual defense policy bill.

They put aside their bitter differences over how to prosecute the alleged attackers, concentrating on the common ground of how to end the epidemic of sexual assault. The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year, though thousands were afraid to come forward. 

Under the defense bill, commanders would be stripped of their ability to overturn jury convictions, any individual convicted of sexual assault would face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal, and a civilian review would be triggered when a decision is made not to prosecute a case. 

The bill also would provide a special counsel for victims and eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial.

Senate action on the bill is the culmination of months of work, largely led by the seven women who serve on the 26-member Armed Services Committee — a high-water mark for a panel that for decades was a male bastion.

“This is what the American people wanted, us working together,” said five-term Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the senators were united by the need for serious reforms. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., spoke of the importance of addressing the crimes. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Washington state’s Maria Cantwell and the newest members, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, delivered forceful speeches.

In a fractious Congress, the women have persuaded their colleagues to support the changes in a rare instance of bipartisanship. The women represented various stages of Senate experience, but all have displayed some willingness to compromise on certain issues.

On issues that divide them, they are lobbying hard.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Armed Services personnel subcommittee, wants to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers.

Her solution would take the decision from commanders and give it to seasoned military lawyers. The top echelon of the military has opposed her plan and she has faced resistance from a number of Democrats and Republicans, including the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

She received the endorsement of the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Separate from the speeches, Gillibrand held a Capitol Hill news conference with victims, retired military and other senators to push for her proposal. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., announced his support, raising the number of backers for her plan to 50 senators.

He received a kiss from Gillibrand after his remarks and endorsement of her bill.

She is likely, however, to face a 60-vote, filibuster-proof threshold this week on a proposal that has divided the Senate. In the meantime, she said she was calling or meeting with every undecided senator.

One of her opponents, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor that the dispute has been a distraction from the changes in the bill.

“I would be less than candid if I didn’t say it has been frustrating to have one policy difference dominate the discussion of this issue over the previous few weeks without anyone even realizing the historic reforms that are contained in this bill,” McCaskill said.

Women challenge ongoing exclusion from combat

Four service women and the Service Women’s Action Network have amended their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for its ongoing blanket exclusion of women from thousands of ground combat positions.

The four service members have all done tours in Iraq or Afghanistan – some deploying multiple times – where they served in combat or led female troops who went on missions with combat infantrymen. Their careers and opportunities continue to be limited by the DOD’s ongoing policy and practice of excluding women from many positions, units, combat arms schools, and training programs, despite the Pentagon announcement in January that it was rescinding its 1994 combat exclusion directive. 

The plaintiffs originally filed a lawsuit challenging the DOD ban on women in combat positions last year with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

The amended complaint calls for the federal court to declare that the DOD’s policies and practices of excluding women from combat arms positions and schools violates the Constitution and to require the DOD to allow qualified servicewomen to be considered on their individual merit for all such positions.

“Although combat exclusion was lifted nearly a year ago, we’ve seen very little evidence of plans to further open up combat assignments to women,” said Service Women’s Action Network executive director and former Marine Corps captain Anu Bhagwati. “The service branches are stalling while we lose experienced, talented service women to the civilian workforce because of the military’s brass ceiling. Tens of thousands of military jobs still remain closed to women. It is unacceptable that in the year 2013 the military would pass over a more qualified woman for a less qualified man.”

One plaintiff, Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, served in Afghanistan, where she accompanied combat arms soldiers on missions in remote mountain areas, and in Iraq, where her vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. Hunt was awarded the Purple Heart for shrapnel injuries sustained in that attack. Yet she is still not allowed to compete to attend Special Forces School, which is not open to women.

“I have served honorably side-by-side with my brothers-in-arms for over a decade and, like many of my fellow female soldiers, performed under the same harsh and dangerous wartime conditions. I just want the same opportunities for myself and fellow soldiers to compete for these positions,” said Hunt. “We were deeply gratified when the repeal was announced earlier this year, but the slow progress is hampering the reenlistment decisions of soldiers like myself and impacting the military’s efforts to recruit women for these positions. Attracting and retaining the best and brightest for every job, no matter their gender, is of the utmost importance to secure military readiness.”

Women make up more than 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel, yet are excluded from more than 200,000 positions despite the repeal of the 1994 combat exclusion policy in January. Some branches, such as the Marine Corps, claim that they still have to study the effects of allowing women to serve in combat before opening up combat arms career fields, despite the fact that women have already been serving on the ground for years.

“These women have already shown in Iraq and Afghanistan that they can serve as honorably and bravely as their male counterparts, including in small combat and special forces teams,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “There is no justification for maintaining a blanket ban on women in these career fields and combat arms positions.”

Two of the plaintiffs led the Marine Corps Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan. The FETs lived with and conducted missions with combat infantrymen.

Another plaintiff was sent on similar missions in the Army, accompanying combat troops in Afghanistan. Because these were considered temporary duties outside of the servicewomen’s official specialties, their combat experience is not given official recognition.

“We are losing a generation of leaders while the DOD drags its feet,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “A generation of women have now deployed and served in combat zones, and want to move into leadership positions. Yet the longer the DOD delays opening all positions to women, the greater the risk that these female leaders will choose to leave the service.”

Southern Baptist chaplains barred from officiating at gay servicemembers’ weddings

The Southern Baptist Convention, which provides the largest share of active-duty military chaplains, has barred members from taking part in weddings, counseling sessions and couples retreats for same-sex couples.

The North American Mission Board, an arm of the Nashville, Tenn.-based SBC, also prohibits chaplains from participating in any services that would appear to endorse or accept same-sex unions.

The group issued the decision in the wake of the U.S. Department of Defense recognizing same-sex marriages and extending benefits to gay spouses.

“Our chaplains want to uphold the authority and relevancy of Scripture while continuing to serve in a very diverse setting,” Doug Carver, a retired Army major general who leads NAMB’s chaplaincy efforts, said in a statement Aug. 29. “We believe these updated guidelines will help them do that while still sharing the love and the hope of Christ with everyone.”

Mike Ebert, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based NAMB, said the Southern Baptist Convention spoke with defense officials before issuing the guidelines.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said chaplains may participate in private ceremonies on or off military installations as long as the ceremony is legal under state and local law.

“Further, a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs,” Christensen said.

The Pentagon, following a Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, said last month same-sex spouses of troops will be eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits as heterosexual spouses. The policy went into effect Tuesday.

Last year, Congress approved conscience protections for military members, which allows them to express their personal beliefs without fear of punishment.

“We were getting questions from our chaplains, can you please clarify what we can and cannot do. We wanted to provide clarity to our guys,” Ebert said.

NAMB-affiliated chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, bless such a marriage or perform counseling before a same-sex union. The guidelines also prohibit chaplains from supporting same-sex events, including relationship training or retreats, whether they are on or off a military base, if participation “gives the appearance of accepting the homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing.”

Chaplains are “free to lead or participate in a worship service” as long as the service isn’t with a chaplain, volunteer or contractor who “personally practices or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”

Chaplains are expected to “treat all servicemembers, regardless of rank or behavior, with Christ-centered dignity, honor and respect while assisting the institutional leadership in its religious mission requirements and responsibilities as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the guidance notes.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, said the move by the Southern Baptist Convention could have wide repercussions, and the military could restrict chaplains to only faith-based duties, Torpy said.

“That would be the worst situation,” Torpy said “It’s just as frustrating for us as it is to other communities to see Southern Baptist do something that really undermines the chaplaincy.”

The military has 439 active-duty chaplains and 268 reserve-duty chaplains affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. That makes it the largest affiliation among the services, according to the latest data from March. The military has a total of 2,884 active-duty chaplains, with another 2,375 in the reserves.

About 140,000 active-duty servicemembers identify themselves as Baptists, with about 13,000 saying they are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Texas guard refusing DOD policy to extend equal benefits to gay couples

The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Sept. 3 despite a Pentagon directive to do so, while Mississippi won’t issue applications from state-owned offices. Both states cited their respective bans on gay marriage.

Sept. 3 was the first working day that gays in the military could apply for benefits after the Pentagon announced it would recognize same-sex marriages. The Department of Defense had announced that it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Texas and Mississippi appeared to be the only two states limiting how and where same-sex spouses of National Guard members could register for identification cards and benefits, according to an Associated Press tally. Officials in 13 other states that also ban gay marriage – including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia – said Tuesday that they will follow federal law and process all couples applying for benefits the same.

Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote to service members in a letter obtained by the AP that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn’t process applications from gay and lesbian couples. But he said the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.

Nichols wrote that his agency, which oversees Texas’ National Guard units, “remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.” He then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Texas Military Forces, as a state agency, must obey state law.

Mississippi National Guard spokesman Tim Powell said the main factor in determining where same-sex spouses could apply for benefits came down to the property owner. Powell said only National Guard offices on federal property would accept the applications in Mississippi, which also constitutionally bans gay marriage.

“It is our intent to provide benefits and services to our men and women in uniform and at the same time abide by federal and state statutes,” Powell said.

Once the same-sex spouse is approved and obtains an ID, they may go to any base for services.

Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state with a total ban on processing applications from gay and lesbian couples. Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal.

Alicia Butler said she was turned away from the Texas Military Forces headquarters in Austin early Tuesday and advised to get her ID card at Fort Hood, an Army post 90 miles away. She married her spouse – an Iraq war veteran – in California in 2009, and they have a 5-month-old child.

“It’s so petty. It’s not like it’s going to stop us from registering or stop us from marrying. It’s a pointed way of saying, `We don’t like you,” Butler said.

She said she was concerned the state would withhold survivor benefits if something happened to her wife while she was activated on state duty rather than on federal deployment.

“People say, `Why don’t you live somewhere else?'” she said. “Well, my ancestors came here five generations ago to get away from this kind of stuff, and this is my state and I’m not going to go away.”

The American Military Partner Association, which advocates for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people in the armed forces, gave the AP a copy of Nichols’ letter.

“It’s truly outrageous that the State of Texas has decided to play politics with our military families,” said Stephen Peters, the organization’s president. “Our military families are already dealing with enough problems and the last thing they need is more discrimination from the state of Texas.”

In Florida, where gay marriage is banned, state Department of Military Affairs spokesman Lt. Col. James Evans said he was unaware of any policy that would prohibit accepting a request for processing benefits.

Requests for benefits for same-sex couples in Oklahoma, where gay marriage also is illegal, will be handled like those from heterosexual couples, said Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Col. Max Moss. So far, only one National Guard soldier has inquired about receiving benefits for her same-sex partner, but she didn’t have a valid marriage license from a states that authorizes same-sex marriages, Moss said.

“As long as the soldier presents that marriage certificate or license, then we would treat that claim just like we would any other soldier that brings in a marriage license or certificate,” Moss said.

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

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.

Pocan, Rangel sponsor bill to correct records of discharged gay vets

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Charlie Rangel on June 19 introduced a bill to correct the military record of veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation.

Pocan, an openly gay congressman from Wisconsin, and Rangel, a long-serving congressman from New York, have authored the Restore Honor to Service Members Act to ensure gay and lesbian servicemembers who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation have their records upgraded to reflect honorable service.

Since World War II to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011, about 114,000 servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to a news release.

Pocan said, “As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past. Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve.”

Rangle stated, ““As an American, a congressman and a Korean War Veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country.”

He added, “Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their Honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation.”