By Michael Chen, KGTV
(KGTV) - It's a first in the history of the military, as the Pentagon officially recognized a local Navy veteran's change of gender.
Born a male, Autumn Sandeen said as a teen, she identified as a female.
She joined the Navy, lived as male and kept her secret for two decades before retiring.
"If I would have been myself, I would have been kicked out," said Sandeen.
According to military guidelines, gender identity issues are a mental disorder and detrimental to good order and discipline.
In 2011, as the ban on gays and lesbians was lifted, the transgender ban remained.
"The best way to explain it is I felt like a bridesmaid, never a bride," said Sandeen.
Twenty months later, a step down the aisle toward acceptance.
"I felt tremendous, like I accomplished something, not just himself, but for the broader transgender community," said Sandeen.
It's a process that began in 2011. She appealed to the VA, then the Pentagon. It ended with the Pentagon granting her an official change of gender on all military documents.
She submitted a mountain of paperwork, including a revised birth certificate.
It's the first documented case of a gender change in the military.
"They're acknowledging that transgender people exist and not completely off their rockers," Sandeen told 10News.
Sandeen said the recognition of a veteran's gender change forces the question: why shouldn't an active service member be able to change as well?
One thing suddenly helping her cause: as of mid-May 2013, psychiatric manuals no longer classify gender identity issues as a mental disorder.
"I feel like we should able to serve openly because we are physically able to serve openly. It's not a disorder," said Sandeen.
Sandeen hopes the U.S. will join seven other countries in allowing transgender troops.
There is no word from the Pentagon on whether the change in the psychiatric manuals could prompt a change in policy.
Click here for a previous story featuring Sandeen. (Mobile users: http://bit.ly/TaDGOD)