Democracy Dies in Darkness

Wonkblog | Analysis

The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care

By Christopher Ingraham

July 26, 2017 at 11:19 AM

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President Trump tweeted that transgender people would be barred from the military, citing their "tremendous medical costs," but the Pentagon spends less on transgender medical bills than it does on erectile dysfunction medication. (Erin Patrick O'Connor,Osman Malik,Christopher Ingraham/The Washington Post)

On Twitter this morning, President Trump announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military, citing “medical costs” as the primary driver of the decision.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” the president wrote.

While Trump didn't offer any numbers to support this claim, a Defense Department-commissioned study published last year by the Rand Corp. provides exhaustive estimates of transgender servicemembers' potential medical costs.

Considering the prevalence of transgender servicemembers among the active duty military and the typical health-care costs for gender-transition-related medical treatment, the Rand study estimated that these treatments would cost the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

The study didn't include estimates of these costs for reservists, because of their “highly limited military health care eligibility.” It also didn't include estimates for retirees or military family members, because many of those individuals may also have “limited eligibility” for care via military treatment facilities.

“The implication is that even in the most extreme scenario that we were able to identify … we expect only a 0.13-percent ($8.4 million out of $6.2 billion) increase in health care spending,” Rand's authors concluded.

By contrast, total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to $84 million annually, according to an analysis by the Military Times — 10 times the cost of annual transition-related medical care for active duty transgender servicemembers.

The military spends $41.6 million annually on Viagra alone, according to the Military Times analysis — roughly five times the estimated spending on transition-related medical care for transgender troops.

Looked at another way, the upper estimate for annual transgender medical costs in the military amounts to less than a tenth of the price of a new F-35 fighter jet. Or a thousandth of 1 percent of the Defense Department's annual budget.

The cost of providing medical care to transgender servicemembers, in other words, is negligible, and hardly “tremendous,” as the president put it.

Pelosi noted that Trump made his announcement on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Trumans executive order desegregating the military, adding that the president has chosen this day to unleash a vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans. (Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post)
Transgender Americans are serving honorably in our military, Schumer said. We stand with these patriots. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
McCain criticized Trumps announcement, calling it unclear and yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. He added, There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military regardless of their gender identity. He said there should be no change in policy until the Pentagon completes an ongoing review of the issue. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
A spokeswoman for Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Army veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, said that the senator believes Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity, although she said the military should not fund gender-reassignment surgery. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Polis, who is running for Colorado governor, said, Trump makes our military weaker by arbitrarily kicking out high-performing soldiers based solely on gender identity. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Brown, a retired Army Reserve colonel, called it a dark day for our Armed Forces and our nation. He added: President Trumps rationale harkens back to a more ignorant and intolerant time, where words like disruption and not a social experiment were used to keep women, African Americans and gays and lesbians from fully participating in our military services, he said. (Bill OLeary/The Washington Post)
A Trump ally on most issues, Hatch said he wanted more information and clarity on Trumps policy. I dont think we should be discriminating against anyone, he said, adding that transgender people deserve the best we can do for them. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, weighed in against the policy: No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
A senior member of an Appropriations subcommittee that sets Pentagon spending levels, Shelby said he expected Congress to call hearings exploring Trumps policy change. You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve, he told CNN. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
Pleased to hear that @realDonaldTrump shares my readiness and cost concerns, will be changing this costly and damaging policy, Hartzler said on Twitter. (Orlin Wagner/AP)
Gallego, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, accused Trump of using fear of Trans community to score political points. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A former Army officer, said it throws us off when Trump issues surprise tweets that distract from other GOP priorities. Based on what were doing in here this week, I dont know what the connection is, he said. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, called the policy change an unwarranted and disgraceful attack on men and women who have been bravely serving their country. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Gillibrand, who has used her perch on the Senate Armed Services Committee to push for greater protections for women in uniform, said Wednesday that she would pursue legislation to overturn this discriminatory decision. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
During the debate on the initial amendment, Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who also served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, argued for the therapy restriction but explicitly stopped short of calling for an overall ban. Were not stopping transgender people from joining, he said. Were saying taxpayers in this country right now are not going to foot the bill for it. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Photo Gallery: What lawmakers are saying about Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the military

Read more: 

Trump’s LGBT supporters defend him after surprise military transgender ban

The dramatic rise in state efforts to limit LGBT rights

Trump just eviscerated his claim to being an LGBT ally


Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

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