Transgender Marine Veteran Vows to Keep Fighting After Trump Announces ban

"Years of service could mean nothing," said Kiaya Bender, a transgender Marine veteran

A transgender Marine veteran was angered to learn about President Donald Trump tweeted banning transgender individuals from the military.

"Years of service could mean nothing," said Kiaya Bender, who transitioned after leaving the military. 

Bender presented as a female when he joined the Marine Corps in 2009. At that time, the policy was "don't ask, don't tell." 

Transgender people have been able to serve openly in the military since June 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended a ban. Trump had tweeted at the time, during the presidential campaign, that he would fight for the LGBT community. 

Trump's announcement did not say what would happen to transgender people already in the military.

Bender, now married, said things have been changing over the past few years in the military - and it's worrisome to think progress may be reversing. 

"It's scary that people who have spent years of their life serving their country who happened to be transgender who require medical attention are potentially going to get kicked out," Bender said.

But others with military ties, like Marine Vet Chet Derascavage, had differing opinions on the announcement. 

"That's great," said Derascavage, a veteran who served in Vietnam. "Couldn't be better."

Derascavage said when it comes to fighting for our country, having transgender individuals in the armed forces takes away from the U.S.' strength. 

"Not good for the morale of the guys, you know," he said. 

There are as many as 250 service members in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon's personnel system, according to several defense officials. 

The Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender troops. A RAND study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves. 

Two studies — including RAND's — have found that health-care cost for transgender service members to be low in the context of the military’s health care budget. 

Bender argues that those against having transgender individuals in the military do not understand the changing times. 

"A lot of the military is made up of people who fear what they don't understand, a lot of the times it's not accepted, but I felt like we were moving in a direction where it was becoming understood and accepted," Bender said.

Transgender individuals in the armed forces just want to serve their country, like everyone else in the armed forces, Bender said. He has another take on what it means to be a courageous fighter. 

"Just the ability to be who you are in the face of adversity makes a warrior," Bender said.

In addition to fighting for Americans' freedoms around the globe, transgender individuals in the armed forces have a new battle on their hands: the fight for their right to exist. 

"Makes me angry, it makes me really angry, but this is the war that we have to fight right here in our homeland," Bender said.

The VA said their policy regarding transgender service members has not changed. 

"We provide care, benefits and other VA services to all Veterans, including transgender Veterans," said Curt Cashour, Press Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, in a statement.

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