Trans Military Advocacy

Allow Transgender Veterans to Correct Military Discharge Documentation to Account for a Change in Name and Gender

The LGBT Bar’s Military Law Working Group has completed a project calling on the Administration to allow transgender military veterans an opportunity to change their military discharge paperwork (known as DD 214) to reflect their current name and gender.

DD 214 forms are frequently required to obtain benefits such as medical care, educational opportunities, preferential status while seeking employment, shopping on military bases and receiving benefits for dependents. Incorrect paperwork can cause significant obstacles and discrimination for transgender veterans.

The Military Working Group has released a report explaining how and why the Administration should allow transgender veterans to amend their DD 214s.

Click here to read the full report.

Breaking News

Army Ruling May Be Step Toward Service by Transgender Soldiers

Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal

Army’s decision to let two transgender veterans from New Jersey change their names on a military record is raising hopes that transgender soldiers will someday serve openly.

Reversing a longstanding policy against name changes, the two veterans were granted permission from the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to change their names on the DD-214 form, which veterans must present to access a variety of benefits.

Although the military’s ban on service by gays and lesbians was repealed in 2010, members who are transgender are still subject to automatic discharge. But some observers said the decision concerning the two New Jersey veterans points to greater tolerance of transgender persons in the service.

Although a few other transgender veterans are believed to have been allowed to change their names on the DD-214 before, the decision regarding the two New Jersey veterans is the first such ruling accompanied by a written decision by a military official, according to D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, which consulted on the case. The decision is not binding on other cases but may have persuasive value, Kemnitz said.

Being able to change their names on DD-214 forms will allow transgender veterans to avoid the intrusive questions they often face when, as Kemnitz put it, “You’re somebody that looks like a Steve or Brian and there on the form it says ‘Susan’ or ‘Betty.’”

The Army Board for Correction of Military Records unanimously denied the name change requests by the two New Jersey veterans Nov. 6, going against the recommendation of its staff. But Francine Blackmon, deputy assistant secretary of the Army Review Boards, overruled the board Nov. 20.

Blackmon’s decision noted that counsel for the two New Jersey veterans “provided a compelling description of the unique circumstances of transgender individuals and how a DD Form 214 bearing a former name associated with a different gender may prevent or delay receipt of benefits earned through military service.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey represented the veterans, who the organization identified by first names only. Nicolas served with the New Jersey National Guard for nine years and Jennifer served in the U.S. Army for 29 years, attaining the rank of sergeant major, according to Blackmon.

Blackmon noted that Nicolas had spent his military career as a female but obtained a court-ordered name change and birth certificate with his new name and his sex shown as a male. Regarding Jennifer, Blackmon wrote that she spent her military career as a male, then obtained a court-ordered name change and underwent all medical and surgical procedures necessary to transition from male to female.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had anything clearly written out that says those who serve should have their identity documents reflect who they really are. It’s written incredibly compassionately and with understanding of the circumstances of the individual involved,” Kemnitz said.

Jeanne LoCicero of the ACLU-NJ, who wrote to the Army on behalf of Jennifer and Nicolas, said her expectations were low when she submitted her petition. She relied on a white paper issued by the LGBT Bar Association in favor of name changes on DD-214s for transgender veterans. She said she wasn’t sure whether the ruling was a sign of a broader policy change toward transgender persons, but others were more ebullient.

Jillian Todd Weiss, a professor of law and society at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, N.J., called the ruling “a very important step as part of a larger narrative of transgender people in the military.” Weiss added that outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in May that he was in favor of reviewing the military’s ban on transgender service members, and in March a think tank called the Palm Center issued a study favoring service by transgender persons. Against this backdrop, the ruling in favor of the two New Jersey veterans is “one more brick in the wall,” Weiss said.

Montclair, N.J., solo Leslie Farber, who represented Jennifer in the name change petition, said her client also changed her birth certificate and driver’s license to her present name without much trouble. Jennifer said she didn’t have high hopes regarding the DD-214 change but was “pleasantly surprised” by the ruling.

“There are many, many thousands of transgender veterans who this can really help,” Farber said, adding that she thinks the name change ruling is “a move in the right direction” and said the Army is “slowly getting there” with regard to allowing transgender persons to serve openly.

Eric Gang, who heads an Andover, N.J., firm focusing on veterans’ benefits, said he had yet to be retained by a transgender veteran, but added that the largest group of veterans who retain him are Vietnam veterans seeking help with obtaining benefits, and some World War II veterans still seek his assistance. Gang said he thinks transgender veteran issues might become more prevalent in his practice in the future and Blackmon’s ruling would be helpful in that regard.