VERIFY – YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’LL FIND ANSWERS
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THE QUESTION: DO TRANSGENDER PEOPLE CREATE “TREMENDOUS” MEDICAL COSTS FOR THE MILITARY?
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday morning via Twitter that the “United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
If implemented, Trump’s Twitter decree would be a reversal of former President Barack Obama’s policy allowing transgender service members to start serving openly in June 2016.
Trump explained his decision by tweeting:
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
9NEWS’ Verify team decided to figure out how much the U.S. military spends on therapy, hormones and surgery for transgender services members as well as what Trump’s announcement means today and what it might mean tomorrow.
WHAT WE FOUND: ACTUALLY, THE MILITARY SPENDS MORE TO TREAT ACNE
How “tremendous” are the costs of providing medical care to transgender personnel?
The Department of Defense commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation in 2016 to figure out what it might cost to cover these kinds of treatments.
It found that if the military began covering hormone treatment, mental health care and surgical treatments, the estimated costs for all active duty personnel would cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million.
“This amount represents an exceedingly small proportion of active-component health care expenditures (0.038–0.134 percent of approximately $6 billion in spending in FY 2014),” according to the study.
Here are some of the things the military spends more money on:
- $60 million to replace the 59 Tomahawk missiles the U.S. shot at Syria earlier this year.
- $23 million on “acne agents” in 2016
- $212.5 million on office supplies in 2013
- $150 million on private villas and security for those homes between 2010 and 2014
Does the U.S. military spend 10 times more on erectile dysfunction medications than it does on therapy, hormones and surgery for transgender people?
This comparison being shared by Trump opponents on the internet uses a number published by The Military Times in 2015.
The article pulled data from the Defense Health Agency that showed the DoD spent $41.6 million on Viagra and $84.24 on erectile dysfunction in 2014.
At first glance that does appear to be five and ten times more than it spends on transgender medical costs, but it’s not an apples to apples comparison.
The numbers from the top of the Military Times article are for every service member (both active and retired) who use their VA benefits. The RAND study only estimated transgender costs for active duty members.
If you scroll down a little further down in the article, you’ll find this sentence: “According to the data, active-duty troops received just 102,885 scripts for ED meds, totaling $7.67 million.”
That’s about the same amount RAND estimates would be spent on transgender medical costs.
It stands to reason that retired service members would have more ED issues due to age.
As for gender transitions, we don’t know how many retired service members are undergoing procedures for that, so we can’t compare to the bigger numbers on ED that include retirees.
What is the current military policy on transgender service members?
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced in June 2016 that transgender people who were already enlisted in the U.S. military could begin serving openly.
“Effective immediately, service members may no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied reenlistment solely on the basis of gender identity,” according to a DOD press release at the time.
But transgender people wanting to join the military would have had to wait one year. Carter said the military would use that time to develop protocol and train its commanders and other personnel.
The policy also let transgender service members use their health benefits for hormone therapies but not reassignment surgeries.
Has the Trump administration changed anything about that policy before today?
In June, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pushed back the day transgender Americans could begin enlisting in the military from July 2017 to January 2018.
He said it would give the military more time to review the policy and evaluate “the readiness and lethality of our forces.”
The delay didn’t change his predecessor’s policies for people already serving.
Does allowing transgender service members mean the military HAS to cover related medical costs?
No. In fact, this is exactly where the current policy draws the line.
The military began letting its transgender members serve openly in June 2016. However, as we noted above, gender reassignment surgery isn’t necessarily covered.
Whether to cover hormones, counseling and surgery is part of DoD’s ongoing review of the issue, which is supposed to conclude at the end of this year.
It would be possible to continue to allow transgender people to serve openly without providing health coverage for their transition procedures.
And that’s what some lawmakers in President Trump’s own party want.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado) told The Denver Post Wednesday that “America needs a military comprised of patriots willing to sacrifice for this country” and “any American who is physically and emotionally qualified should be allowed to serve.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) took a similar position, saying anyone who is capable and willing should be allowed to serve.
What does Trump’s announcement mean for transgender service members who are active duty today?
We don’t know yet.
Here’s what Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement: “We refer all questions about the President's statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated by adding a section above to more clearly explain that the question of medical costs can be separate from the question of whether transgender service members can be allowed to openly serve.