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Pentagon to pay for surgery for transgender soldier

WASHINGTON — An active-duty service member underwent gender transition surgery Tuesday in the first such procedure approved under a waiver allowing the Pentagon to pay for the operation.

The patient is an infantry soldier who identifies as a woman, according to a source close to the service member. She got her Combat Infantry Badge in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2003, the source said.

Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, head of the Defense Health Agency, which provides medical care to active-duty personnel, approved the waiver request for the surgery Monday, according to a Defense Department document.

"This afternoon, an active-duty military member received a sex-reassignment surgery. Military hospitals do not have the surgical expertise to perform this type of surgery, therefore it was conducted in a private hospital," the Pentagon said in a statement after NBC News' initial report on the procedure.

"Because this service member had already begun a sex-reassignment course of treatment, and the treating doctor deemed this surgery medically necessary, a waiver was approved by the director of the Defense Health Agency. The Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with the Department's interim guidance on transgender Service members."

In August, President Donald Trump signed a memo to halt future funding for sex-reassignment surgery and also bar the Pentagon from accepting transgender recruits. Two organizations filed lawsuits challenging the move, and a federal judge blocked both bans last month.

Trump's transgender military ban frozen by James Mattis 1:44

A RAND Corporation study last year found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would "have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs."

The study estimated there are between 1,320 and 6,530 active-duty members out of 1.3 million service members, and predicted that hormone treatments and surgeries would cost about $2.4 to $8.4 million a year — a tiny sliver of the Pentagon budget.

CORRECTION (Nov. 14, 2017, 4:05 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the surgery. It is taking place at a civilian facility, not a military hospital.