Last Friday, Paula Neira received an unexpected but welcome surprise in the mail. The Navy had officially approved her request, filed in March of 2014, for a name change on what’s known as a DD-214 — the military form that veterans present as proof of service whenever they apply for jobs or a variety of veteran benefits and services.
“I was expecting a fight,” says Neira, a former Navy lieutenant who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1985 and served another six years before resigning her commission in 1991.
Despite serving with distinction and amassing more than 20 military decorations, Neira anticipated the Navy might take its sweet time on her request. That’s because she had officially served in the Navy under a different name but underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1995 after leaving the service. Military regulations don’t allow transgender Americans to serve in the Armed Forces. Still, an estimated 140,000 of the nation’s approximately 26 million veterans are potentially transgender.
But approval of Neira’s name correction was a first for the Navy. Taken together with four other name-change approvals for transgender veterans issued by the Army in the last couple months, an informal policy appears to be emerging. It’s a start, but it's not enough, says D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association.
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