(CNSNews.com) - The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees say they want answers from the Obama administration on its new transgenders-in-the-military policy.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is questioning whether transgender troops will meet military readiness requirements.
And Sen. John McCain, his Senate counterpart, is promising hearings on the matter:
"It's very hard for me right now to make a judgement," McCain told Fox News on Thursday. "I will be calling up the chiefs of the services, those men in uniform who are the heads of the military, and asking their views, including the costs of immplementing -- I'm talking about the fiscal costs of implementing some of these changes.
"And we'll be having hearings So it's hard for me to make a judgement to start with, but this administration is the least communicative with Congress on any issue that I've ever seen in my years in the Senate."
McCain complained that the Defense Department never gave him a "heads-up" on the major policy change. He accused the Obama administration of treating Congress with contempt.
"It seems maybe they're maybe more interested in the publicity value than really getting something accomplished, because something like this will require legislation," McCain said.
Rep. Thornberry issued a statement, noting that U.S. national security is dependent on troops being "medically ready and deployable."
"The Administration seems unwilling or unable to assure the Congress and the American people that transgender individuals will meet these individual readiness requirements at a time when our Armed Forces are deployed around the world," Thornberry said.
"Over the next few weeks, we are going to continue to push for actual answers to the readiness questions we’ve been asking for nearly a year, to which we have still not received a response. We will also be looking at legislative options to address the readiness issues associated with this new policy."
Standing alone at the podium, Defense Secretary Carter told a news conference on Thursday that "our mission is to defend this country."
First, he said there should be no "barriers" to people who meet the qualifications to serve: "We have to have access to 100 percent of America's population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified and to retain them."
Second, Carter said it's a "reality" that transgenders already are serving their country: "And I have a responsibility to them and to their commanders to provide them both with clearer and more consistent guidance than is provided by current policies."
That guidance will cover deployment and medically necessary treatment, including sex-change surgery.
"Right now, most of our transgender servicemembers must go outside the military medical system in order to obtain medical care is judged by doctors to be necessary, and they have to pay for it out of their own pockets," Carter said. "This is inconsistent with our promise to all of our troops that we will take care of them and pay for necessary medical treat."
Carter said there is no "definitive data" on the number of transgender servicemembers, but he noted that a RAND study produced a "best estimate" of "about 2,500 people out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty servicemembers, and about 1,500 out of 825,000 reserve service numbers are transgender.
That RAND study also "concluded that health care costs would represent, again in their words, 'an exceedingly small proportion of DOD's overall health cae expenditures.'"
Carter said that transgenders newly entering the military will be required to have already completed an "medically necessary" treatment in connection with their gender transition -- "and to have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor before they can enter the military."
Currently serving transgender will be seen by military doctors, who "will begin providing transgender servicemembers with all medically necessary care."
Later, in a Q and A with reporters, Carter said military doctors will determine what type of treatment is "medically necessary" for currently serving transgenders.
"That's a decision that they make with their physician," Carter said. "And the timing of it -- of any treatment, of any kind, like any other non-urgent medical care, will be something that their commanders will have a voice in, for the very simple reason that we -- we -- we as, in this matter as in all matters, readiness and deployability are critical."