TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The U.S. Army has agreed to “fully recognize” the new legal names of two transgender military veterans, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday.
The chapter announced that the Army Board for Correction of Military Records recently notified the two veterans – identified only by first name in a news release as Nicolas and Jennifer – about its decision.
The board initially recommended that the request be rejected, but the Army Review Boards’ deputy assistant secretary overrode the decision.
“To get this news the week of Thanksgiving feels fitting,” one of the veterans, Jennifer, said in a release issued by the ACLU. “This is about much more than a change on a piece of paper. This is about the relief of knowing that when I apply for a job, or a home loan, or anything where my veteran status is relevant, I can do it as myself.”
The ACLU said Jennifer served in the U.S. Army for 29 years as a sergeant major, and Nicolas served for nine year in the New Jersey National Guard.
They were both seeking to change their names on the principal document that a military veteran uses to prove a veteran’s status.
The ACLU praised the decision, noting that the military has previously refused to change names on the DD-214 form with few exceptions, citing an interest in preserving the historical accuracy of military records. The organization has argued that refusing to make the changes constitutes a form of discrimination against thousands of transgender veterans.
“This small change in a personnel document means a huge change for veterans like me,” Nicolas said. “I served to protect American principles, and the principles of justice and equality have been served by this decision.”
The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law School, has estimated that 134,300 American transgender veterans run into major problems trying to obtain post-service benefits, because the names and genders documented for their military service do not match those associated with their identification later.
Advocates for transgender people have been intensifying a campaign to persuade the Pentagon to drop its overall ban on their serving in active duty.
During a television appearance in May, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military “continually should be reviewed.” Hagel did not indicate at the time whether he believes the policy should be overturned, but said “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
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