Five Things You Should Know About The April 2019 Transgender DOD Policy



The new DOD policy doesn't ban transgender individuals from service.

A transgender person is someone who identifies as a gender other than his or her biological sex. For example, a person who is biologically male but identifies as female may identify as transgender. Transgender individuals are not excluded from military service, and DOD policy specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. But all persons, whether or not they are transgender, must meet all military standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex. Waivers or exceptions to these standards may be granted on a case-by-case basis.



Transgender service members may continue to serve.

Service members who joined the military in their preferred gender or were diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the 2018 policy takes effect are exempt from the new policy and may serve in their preferred gender.


Many transgender individuals already are serving honorably in uniform. Some are serving in their preferred gender, and many others are serving in their biological sex. These service members will not be asked to leave the military. DOD policy prohibits involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity, and it seeks to protect the privacy of transgender service members.



The new policy is focused on enhancing readiness, and comes after consultation with military and medical experts.

To maintain a military force that is worldwide deployable and combat effective, the military must set high standards, and all military members must sacrifice to meet these standards. In fact, just over 70 percent of prime military-age Americans cannot meet the military's standards.


Anyone who meets military standards without special accommodations can and should be able to serve — this includes transgender persons.


Persons with a history of gender dysphoria — a serious medical condition — and who have undergone certain medical treatment for gender dysphoria, such as cross-sex hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery, or are unwilling or unable to meet the standards associated with their biological sex, could adversely impact unit readiness and combat effectiveness. For this reason, such persons are presumptively disqualified for service without a waiver.


This policy will ensure that the U.S. military maintains the highest standards necessary to achieve maximum readiness, deployability, and lethality to fight and win on the battlefield, DOD officials explained.



Gender dysphoria is a medical condition.

Transgender individuals identify as a gender other than their biological sex. For some, the difference between their biological sex and their gender identity can manifest itself in a condition called "gender dysphoria."


Gender dysphoria is a marked incongruence between one's self-identified gender and one's biological sex. And that incongruence has to be so great that it causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. It's a recognized medical condition that if a patient comes in and sees a doctor and explains their symptoms, they can be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

For some individuals, gender dysphoria can be alleviated through counseling. But for others, the treatment for gender dysphoria may include gender transition, which may involve living socially as the opposite gender without any anatomical changes or receiving hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery.

Persons with gender dysphoria who seek to transition genders require special accommodations from military standards.


The new DOD policy eliminates special accommodations that were provided to persons with gender dysphoria but not to others.

First, the 2016 DOD policy allows individuals who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria and obtained hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery to join the military in their preferred gender without a waiver if they were stable beforehand for at least 18 months. However, individuals with other conditions who obtained similar treatments, such as hormone therapy for low testosterone, could not join the military without a waiver.

The 2018 DOD policy eliminates this disparity. Individuals who have undergone either hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for gender dysphoria will no longer be able to join the military without a waiver.


Second, under the 2016 policy, all service members, including transgender service members, must adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex unless they are diagnosed with gender dysphoria and undergo gender transition.


Not all transgender persons have gender dysphoria, and not all transgender persons choose to transition genders. But for those who do have gender dysphoria and choose to transition genders, the 2016 policy allows them to serve in their preferred gender once their transition is complete. Gender transition may include undergoing hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery or simply living socially as the opposite gender without any anatomical changes. For instance, a service member whose biological sex is male, but who identifies as female and is diagnosed with gender dysphoria and completes a gender transition, must adhere to the grooming, physical fitness and other sex-based standards associated with female service members.


All other service members who do not qualify for service under the 2016 policy, however, are required to adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex, even if doing so precluded them from expressing core aspects of their identity.


The 2018 policy ends this disparity. Except for those who are exempt from the 2018 policy, all service members, regardless of their gender identity, must adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex. These sex-based standards — such as physical fitness and body fat standards — are based on male and female physiology, not gender identity.                                                                    

                                                                                             as of 01-2020

Upgrading Your Military Discharge 

It’s difficult, but not impossible, to get your bad paper discharge upgraded to honorable or get the reasons for your discharge changed.  

Can I Get a Discharge Upgrade?

You can apply to the Discharge Review Board (DRB) of your branch of the service for a discharge upgrade or a change in the discharge reason (that is, character of service). To get your discharge upgraded or your character of service changed, you will have to show that your discharge was “improper" or "inequitable." Improper means factually incorrect or inconsistent with the law. Inequitable means inconsistent with the traditions and policies of the service.

An example of a discharge that qualifies for an upgrade might be that a veteran served honorably and had a single bad incident or was abusing drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Discharge Review Board.

Complete an Application for Review of Discharge From the Armed Services of the United States. You can complete it online, or get it from a local Department of Defense installation or the regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Either submit the application online or mail it to the address below for your branch of the service. Be very thorough in your application about all the reasons you believe you are entitled to an upgrade. Any issues you neglect to list will not be considered by the board, even if you or your lawyer raise them later on.

This tool can be found on at:

This initiative was one of many in recent years aimed at improving the review process and guidance available to veterans who believe they may have been unfairly discharged or received an unfair discharge characterization.


The Department issued special guidance in 2011 for veterans discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or its predecessor policies. Also, the Department issued guidance related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2014. 


Most recently, in February 2016, the Department redoubled its efforts to ensure veterans received the benefit of the latest guidance and statutes of limitations were liberally waived in such cases.  Subsequently, in December 2016, the Department launched an internal review of its policies and procedures. That review disclosed some gaps and confusion in the previous guidance. 


In August 2017, the Department issued significant guidance clarifying how review boards will consider cases involving mental health conditions, including PTSD, TBI, sexual assault, or sexual harassment.

For information on a specific board, please contact the board directly or through its website at: 

Air Force: Air Force Board of Correction of Military Records

Army: Army Review Board Agency (ARBA) Note: The Army now accepts online applications for changes using the ACTSOnline system.

Coast Guard: Board for Correction of Military Records of the Coast Guard

Navy and Marine Corps: The Board for Correction of Naval Records


                         My Recommendation


If you received a less than honorable discharge you should fight for an upgrade. The Modern Military Association of America and Military Law Task Force are the best places to begin.  If you were discharged and suffer PTS due to sexual assault in the military, contact the VA for assistance.

Imagineer - Stef Christensen