Two New Jersey-based transgender veterans represented by the ACLU of New Jersey have won a victory in a battle to change their names on a key military identification document, with implications for transgender veterans throughout the country. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records sent letters on November 12, which the ACLU-NJ received on November 24, with its decision to change the names of the two veterans on their “DD-214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty” forms, principal documents for any action requiring proof of veteran’s status.
Army Review Boards Deputy Assistant Secretary Francine Blackmon granted full relief for Nicolas and Jennifer, the two New Jersey veterans petitioning for the name change. Jennifer, a Sergeant Major, served in the U.S. Army for 29 years, and Nicolas, a New Jersey National Guardsman, served for nine. Previously, the military had refused to change names on the DD-214 form with few exceptions, expressing an interest in preserving the historical accuracy of military records.
“To get this news the week of Thanksgiving feels fitting,” said Jennifer. “This is about much more than a change on a piece of paper. This is about the relief of knowing that when I apply for a job, or a home loan, or anything where my veteran status is relevant, I can do it as myself.”
The ACLU-NJ has contended that the board has the authority – as well as an imperative — to change this policy and thereby prevent the continued injustice facing transgender service members. Not changing the document constitutes a form of discrimination against transgender veterans. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records recommended denying the application, but the deputy assistant secretary overrode its recommendation to approve the name change.
“This small change in a personnel document means a huge change for veterans like me,” said Nicolas. “I served to protect American principles, and the principles of justice and equality have been served by this decision.”
The DD-214 form determines veterans’ eligibility for benefits and legal protections tied to military service. Veterans need this document to engage in a wide range of activities in public life, including securing a home loan, taking the bar exam, or applying for a job with an employer that gives veterans preference in hiring. Transgender veterans not only risk the denial of these many benefits because of inconsistencies on the DD-214, but also face invasive questions every time this document is presented.
According to the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law School, an estimated 134,300 American transgender veterans encounter substantial obstacles to obtaining post-service benefits because the names and genders memorialized on their military service discharge documents no longer match their names and genders following from the end of their service. This inconsistency might deprive them of benefits or services, or could subject them to invasive questions requiring personal information to explain discrepancies between documents.
“With this decision, the U.S. Army has recognized the importance of reflecting service members’ true identities accurately, and we’re grateful that the deputy assistant secretary chose to reexamine the approach the Army Review Boards had taken for too long,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “We hope this action signals a new direction for the Army, if not all branches of the military, and indicates a new sensitivity to the barriers faced by transgender veterans.”