PENTAGON - The Pentagon has lifted its ban on transgender men and women serving openly in the military.
"We have to have access to 100 percent of America's population," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters Thursday.
"Our mission is to defend this country and we don't want barriers unrelated to a person's qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the solder, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission," Carter said.
He said servicemen and women can serve openly immediately and will no longer be discharged just for being transgender.
He said there are currently an estimated 2,500 transgender people serving in active duty.
The military will begin accepting transgender Americans who meet all of the physical and mental standards “no later than one year from today,” Carter added.
The decision was welcomed and called long overdue by many, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who tweeted that he was "glad to see this step toward equality" on his official account Thursday.
The change removes one of the last barriers to military service by any individual. It comes nearly a half-decade after the formal end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military, and less than one year after all combat positions in the military were opened to women.