The Army won't pay for Private Bradley Manning to become Chelsea Manning, but a spokeswoman could not completely rule out a sex change for the convicted leaker of classified documents while he serves his 35-year term at Fort Leavenworth.
“The Army doesn’t provide sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy,” Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway told FoxNews.com
But Conway could not say if Manning would be barred from such procedures if they were paid for with private funds, saying, “I don’t think we’ve explored that.”
A handful of recent court cases, including a recent one involving a convicted killer in Massachusetts, have found that taxpayers must foot the bill for sex changes for prisoners. But those inmates were held in state and federal prisons, not an Army lockup - making Manning's case one of first impression.
A day after his conviction for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, Manning, 25, announced Thursday that he wants to live as a woman known as Chelsea Manning while in the otherwise all-male prison population at the Kansas facility.
"As I transition to the next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me," he said on NBC's "Today" show. "I am Chelsea Manning."
Crystal Gray, president of the United States Transgender Advocacy, said it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to force Manning to continue life as a male if he is indeed afflicted with gender dysphoria. Gray believes members of the transgender community could help Manning mount a legal challenge to the military’s position, and possibly even underwrite the cost of the procedure.
“If this were to become a national issue, I could see where helping [Manning] would become a good way to help raise awareness,” Gray said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the military’s refusal to treat Manning’s apparent gender identification problems could violate Manning’s Constitutional rights.
“The ACLU stands with Chelsea Manning, and will support Ms. Manning's pursuit of appropriate healthcare and lawful treatment while at Fort Leavenworth,” the organization said in a statement.
Elaine Donnelly, of the Center for Military Readiness, predicted a lawsuit won’t prove necessary to compel taxpayers to fund Manning’s gender switch.
“Judging from President Obama's record of pandering to his LGBT constituency, litigation probably won't be necessary,” Donnelly said.
Manning's gender problems were part of his defense during the court-martial at Fort Meade, Md. Defense attorneys argued that Manning’s gender-identity issues were ignored by commanders who should have removed him from the position in Iraq, where he had access to classified U.S. documents.
Weeks before his arrest, Manning sent a photo to an Army officer showing himself in makeup and a wig. Manning’s title for the email was “My Problem." Manning, who says he has known since childhood he was really female, has not begun hormone therapy. His attorney, David Coombs, indicated that he will sue the military if they don't allow the procedure.
"I'm hoping Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that," Mr. Coombs said on the "Today" show. "If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so."
There are rare circumstances in which the military will pay for operations involving sex and gender, but Manning apparently would not qualify.
“Our current policy with regard to ‘intersex’ surgery is that it is a covered benefit only when performed to correct sex-gender confusion-ambiguous genitalia which is documented to have been present at birth,” said Army Medical Command spokeswoman Maria Tolleson.
Transgendered individuals are not eligible for military service under current guidelines.