Are Transgenders A Financial Burden On The Military, As Donald Trump Claimed?

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr


As you've probably heard by now, Trump recently rolled out a ban on transgenders in the military. As CNN reports, Trump said the following in his Twitter announcement of the new policy:


"'After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,' Trump said in a series of tweets. '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.'"


In this post, I'm going to focus on the specific claim that transgenders in the military are a tremendous financial burden.

First there's the question of how many transgender people there are in the military. Bloomberg reports the following:


"A 2014 study estimated that 15,500 trans people were currently serving in the U.S. military . . . There are currently 1.3 million active-duty personnel in the U.S. military and an additional 800,000 in reserves.

Using various extrapolations based on population estimates and rates of service for men and women, the Williams researchers concluded that 8,800 people were in active duty and another 6,700 were in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve"


So of the 2.1 million active-duty and reserve personnel, only 15,500 are transgender—or 0.73%. So from this statistic alone, it appears to be intuitively false that it's some kind of crushing financial burden to provide medical care for a group of people that amounts to less than 1% of the military.

And also keep in mind that not 100% of transgender people who join the military are going to be provided with this kind of medical care after the fact; many of them presumably would have had the necessary surgeries and hormone therapies and so forth prior to their joining of the military.

The RAND Corporation provided a precise estimate of how much transgender people cost our military each year. As Bloomberg writes, 


"Care for transgender people in the military would add $8.4 million to the total medical costs of all active duty service members, according to an analysis last year by RAND Corp. That's a little more than 0.1 percent of what the military spends on medical care for all service members. To put that in perspective, it's about 0.0014 percent of Trump's total defense budget proposal."


As of 2015, our military spending was about $600 billion. Next year, in 2018, it might go as high as $640 billion. $8.4 million out of over $600 billion. Is this really going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back? I don't think so.

There's another interesting way to look at this question: And that's to compare the cost of transgender medical care to specific pieces of US military hardware.

The entire annual cost of transgender medical care in the active-duty military is equivalent to about 144 hours of flight time of the 10th most expensive plane to operate in the US military: the F-22 raptor.

The cost of a single Virginia-class submarine is $2.69 billion. This is 320 times more expensive than the cost of medical care for all transgenders in the active-duty military. Thus, in order to cost the same as a single Virginia-class submarine—which the US fleet currently has 11 of—the transgender active-duty military population would have to increase by 320 times, from 8,800 to 2,816,000—which is over twice the size of the entire active-duty military.

So anybody who claims that $8.4 million worth of medical care is a considerable burden to our military is just talking complete nonsense.

It's also worth pointing out that there are two completely separate questions here: Whether taxpayers should be responsible for funding such gender-reassignment surgeries, hormone therapies, and so forth, and whether or not transgenders, generally, should be allowed into the military. One could oppose the former while nonetheless supporting the latter. So even if we granted that the transgender were, in fact, extremely costly to our military, instead of a wholesale ban on transgenders in the military, we could simply implement some kind of rules that say: "Taxpayer money will not be spent on these kinds of surgeries and hormone therapies."

But the simple fact of the matter is that transgender medical care is a drop in the bucket compared to our annual military spending.