Involuntarily Separated Transgender Army Veteran Wins Dispute With U.S. Army

October 6, 2020

Cleary Gottlieb, together with Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), successfully represented client Dr. S in his appeal to the Army Board For Corrections of Military Records (ABCMR) to correct his military records and cancel up to $77,000 of debt accrued while participating in an educational assistance loan program, Specialized Training Assistance Program (STRAP), which assisted with the cost of Dr. S’s medical school so long as he committed to remain in the U.S. Army Reserve (Army) for a certain period of time after graduation.

In 2008, Dr. S, an officer in the Army and then an 11-year veteran was informed that he would be involuntarily separated from the Army after he notified his commanding officer of his intention to undergo gender confirmation surgery and his status as a transgender servicemember. Notwithstanding his requested resignation in lieu of involuntary separation proceedings (a common practice for officers facing administrative separation to save time and money for both parties), Dr. S was repeatedly told by the Army that given the involuntary nature of the separation proceedings, he would receive an honorable discharge and the Army would not seek to recoup any funds previously paid in association with his previous participation in STRAP. After a six-year delayed processing of his involuntary separation paperwork, the Army nevertheless initiated a recoupment proceeding of the STRAP funds, plus interest. Additionally, the Army began to garnish Dr. S’s tax returns.

On May 1, 2017, Cleary and TLDEF filed an appeal with the ABCMR on behalf of Dr. S, seeking a cancellation of this debt and alleging that his separation was the result of a now-defunct policy, he was repeatedly assured by the Army that this debt would be forgiven due to the nature of his separation, and that his status as a transgender individual made him no less ready, willing, or able to serve. Although the ABCMR estimates an 18-month timeline for an opinion, after more than three years, and repeated reassurances to the Cleary team that a decision would be issued shortly, the ABCMR issued their decision in Dr. S’s favor. The ABCMR acknowledged Cleary’s position that Dr. S’s disclosure of his gender identity took “personal integrity and courage” and that had the Army not initiated the involuntarily separation, Dr. S would have continued to serve his country. Accordingly, the ABMCR determined that Dr. S “was eligible for the portion of the STRAP stipends commensurate with the length of time served under the agreement” and directed that he be relieved of that portion of the debt.