U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he’s open to a review of whether to allow transgender people to serve in the military.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I’m open to that.”
Since the 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay and lesbian troops from serving openly, transgender advocates have called on the Pentagon to expand such opportunities. Transgender people remain prohibited from military service.
The Pentagon’s treatment of transgender people came to the fore last year after Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, convicted of leaking classified intelligence, announced plans to become a woman. A Kansas judge last month approved Manning’s request to change his name from Bradley to Chelsea.
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Hagel said any decision on allowing transgender people to serve would be more difficult than ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“The issue of transgender is a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it,” Hagel said. “These issues require medical attention. Austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”
The Pentagon isn’t reviewing whether to allow transgender people into the military and has no plans to study it, said a Defense Department official who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the policy.
“I go back to the bottom line,” Hagel said, in explaining his willingness to consider a policy change. “Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it. This is an area that we’ve not defined enough.”
Turning to the Ukraine crisis, Hagel said he sees no evidence Russia has withdrawn troops massed on its border.
“They’re not leaving, as far as we can tell,” Hagel said in the interview taped on Saturday.
The U.S. and European Union accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to destabilize Ukraine in a push to increase his sway in territories that once comprised the Soviet Union. Putin has arrayed a force of as many as 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Russia continues to isolate itself for a short-term gain,” Hagel said. Asked if Russia is an enemy of the U.S., Hagel said, “we’re not at war with Russia.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Putin has begun replacing troops on the border who have fulfilled their military service.
“They’re pulling troops out, but for the sole purpose of rotating out their conscripts,” Rogers said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. There’s no sign Putin is engaged in a “wholesale” withdrawal, Rogers said.
On U.S. efforts to help the Nigerian government find more than 200 girls abducted from a school last month, Hagel said, “it’s going to be very difficult.”
“We’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use,” he said when asked about the search for students taken by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. “There’s no intention at this point to put any American boots on the ground.”