Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning filed a lawsuit in federal court against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Pentagon Tuesday, demanding access to hormone therapy more than a year after her first request for such treatment.
The military's ongoing delay in providing such gender-affirming treatment has prompted the rapid deterioration of Manning's mental health, reports the Huffington Post.
Her lawsuit, filed Tuesday, seeks a preliminary injunction that would allow her to begin hormone treatment while the case is litigated, which could possibly last several years. Manning's legal team had previously indicated that they would file a lawsuit on her behalf if the Army continued to drag its feet on providing basic health care to Manning while she is in custody.
"It has now been more than four years since I was first diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that I have struggled with my entire life," Manning stated in the filing. "I do not believe I will be able to survive another year or two — let alone twenty to thirty years — without treatment."
Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in an all-male facility at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for leaking government documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the website WikiLeaks in 2010.
The former Army intelligence officer publicly came out as transgender last August after she was sentenced. She has since been diagnosed by a number of military doctors with gender dysphoria, an incongruence between one's assigned gender and the one with which they identify. Hormone replacement therapy is one of a number of recommended courses of treatment for gender dysphoria, as outlined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's Standards of Care, and as supported by the American Medical Association.
In August, it was revealed that despite reports that Sec. Hagel had approved Manning's request to begin hormone therapy, she hadn't received any such treatment. One of Manning's attorneys, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio, has been in frequent contact with Manning, and says she has been in "escalating distress" the longer the military has refused her hormone therapy, according to Huff Post.
"She, for a long time, retained the hope that they would do the right thing," Strangio said. "Since then she's been very desperate for relief for a very serious condition which is not being taken seriously."
David Coombs, who represented Manning in her court-martial trial, is reportedly involved in the new federal lawsuit, as well. Coombs had previously indicated the possibility of filing an Eighth Amendment lawsuit if the military continued to deny his client the treatment, which he argues is "cruel and unusual punishment."
However, the Army has been resistant to providing that treatment, pointing to a military regulation that determines any transition-related treatment, or even a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, as grounds for discharge and evidence of a "mental illness."
But in Manning's case, she cannot be discharged from the Army while she is serving out her sentence. This leaves the military with limited options: deny her treatment in a military prison and face the current lawsuit, or treat her in a military facility and set a new precedent.
The Army has declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
Sunnivie Brydum contributed reporting to this article.