Army won’t pay for Bradley Manning gender surgery
By: Leigh Munsil
August 22, 2013 10:28 AM EDT
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning will have access to psychiatric services while serving his prison sentence for his role in the WikiLeaks case, but the Army will not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery, a spokesman said Thursday.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether Manning would be allowed to undergo the treatment if it were paid for by other means.
Manning, who was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison, requested through his lawyer on Thursday to be called Chelsea Manning and said he hopes to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. Manning is scheduled to serve out his sentence at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“Inmates at the United States Disciplinary Barracks and Joint Regional Correctional Facility are treated equally regardless of race, rank, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” Army spokesman George Wright told POLITICO. “All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science noncommissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement.”
But the Pentagon won’t be footing the bill for Manning’s gender reassignment, he added.
“The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder,” Wright said.
A representative for Fort Leavenworth, in an interview with Courthouse News, also said the facility provides psychiatric care but does not provide sex-reassignment surgery or hormone therapy.
Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a Defense Department spokeswoman, added that as a matter of policy the U.S. military does not provide hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery to service members, and DoD regulations don’t currently allow transgender people to serve in the military.
And a uniformed service member who is dishonorably discharged wouldn’t be eligible for TRICARE coverage, she added.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, said Manning is not seeking to join a female prison population but that he’s prepared to fight the ruling if Fort Leavenworth doesn’t allow him to have the gender reassignment treatment.
“I’m hoping that Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so,” Coombs said. “The ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin, and to be the person that she’s never had an opportunity to be.”
The military’s stance that it won’t provide the treatment raises constitutional concerns, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
“Without the necessary treatment, gender dysphoria can cause severe psychological distress, including anxiety and suicide. When the government holds individuals in its custody, it must provide them with medically necessary care,” ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio said. “The official policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and most state agencies is to provide medically necessary care for the treatment of gender dysphoria, and courts have consistently found that denying such care to prisoners based on blanket exclusions violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.”
Boston-based attorney Neal Minahan, who won a federal court case in 2011 against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to grant his client access to hormone therapy, said that gender identity issues aren’t the same as elective medical treatments, and there’s precedent for allowing access to gender reassignment treatment.
“This is a typical response from a prison that is taking a transgender inmate, to say well, we don’t do those as a matter of blanket policy,” Minahan said. “That has proved to be not constitutionally adequate in numerous courts over the years. And I expect the same result here in the military context.”