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Report: The US military just approved hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning

  1. The US military will provide hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, the 27-year-old US Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 for leaking secret US documents, USA Today reported.
  2. This is a first for the US Army, which still bans transgender soldiers from service and doesn't typically provide trans-inclusive medical care.
  3. Manning was convicted to 35 years in prison, with eligibility for parole in about seven years, after she leaked troves of wartime documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. She is being held in the US Army's Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.

The military still prohibits trans soldiers from serving openly

Chelsea Manning

A 2012 picture of Chelsea Manning. (Alex Wong / Getty Images News)

Manning's treatment is likely to be well received in trans communities and among critics of the US Army's treatment of transgender soldiers.

But it's an atypical move for the US military and Department of Defense, neither of which provide hormone therapy to their soldiers. The Department of Veterans Affairs does for military veterans.

The military, in fact, still bans transgender soldiers from openly serving. As a March 2014 report from the Palm Center explained, the ban allows commanders to dismiss transgender individuals from the military without a medical review, regardless of the soldier's ability to serve. As a result, transgender soldiers are forced to hide their true identities if they want to remain in the military.

The restrictions, as with other forms of discrimination against transgender people, are based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. Many medical experts prior to the 1990s viewed transgender status as an untreatable mental health issue. But most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association, agree hormone therapy and other forms of care can treat transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria, or significant distress caused by the gender someone was assigned at birth.

The military acknowledged the medical value of the treatment in a February 5 memo obtained by USA Today. "After carefully considering the recommendation that [hormone treatment] is medically appropriate and necessary, and weighing all associated safety and security risks presented, I approve adding [hormone treatment] to Inmate Manning's treatment plan," Erica Nelson, the commandant of the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, wrote.

The Obama administration could overturn the prohibition on trans soldiers openly serving and trans-inclusive medical care. Some administration officials, including former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, previously signaled they're open to reviewing the rules, but it's unclear when or if a review is actually happening.

Further reading: 11 myths about transgender people.