WASHINGTON – The Navy will not immediately discharge transgender sailors and will continue to provide them with medical treatment despite the tweets fired off by President Trump on Wednesday, according to an email obtained by USA TODAY.
The email from Vice Adm. Robert Burke also acknowledges that Trump's announcement is "causing concern for some of our sailors and that they likely have questions."
His email represents the military's first known steps to deal with the tumult unleashed by Trump's tweets.
Burke notes that the office of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is "working to quickly discern the President's intent." Mattis was on vacation when Trump made his announcement.
Also on Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joe Dunford sent a memo to the service chiefs Thursday saying there will be no change in current policy on transgender troops until Mattis receives direction from Trump. That indicates there has been no formal policy guidance issued from the White House.
In the meantime, Burke said that no transgender sailors – nor likely troops from other services – will be discharged until there is clear guidance from the White House.
There may be as many as 6,600 transgender troops on the military's active duty force of 1.3 million, according to a RAND Corp. report.
The Defense Secretary, and by extension, the Navy "will not take any personnel actions or change any policy until further guidance from the President is received," Burke wrote.
Transgender sailors receiving medical care will continue "to receive all necessary medical care," Burke wrote.
He concluded by saying that service members "with dignity and respect is something we expect."
“Implementation policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. “And I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that.”
Explaining his rationale on Wednesday, Trump said the U.S. military "must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
Yet any saving Trump hoped to achieve by denying transgender troops medical care will be dwarfed by the cost of replacing them.
Hundreds of troops have identified themselves as transgender in order to receive medical treatment, including about 150 sailors in the Navy, according to two U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about medical issues.
The RAND Corp., a non-partisan think tank commissioned by the Pentagon to study the issue, found that only a few hundred of the estimated 6,600 transgender troops would seek medical treatment in any year. RAND found those costs would total no more than $8 million per year.