No, Joe Biden didn’t just ‘force the US military to pay for gender reassignment surgeries’
On 25 January, the anti-abortion, pro-marriage, fundamentalist protestant US Family Research Council put out a press release about the fact Joe Biden had – that day – overturned Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the US military.
The ban took effect in April 2019. Trans personnel who were already serving were allowed to continue, but new recruits were locked out.
The Family Research Council’s press release was titled President Biden Diverts Military Away from its Mission, Forces it to Pay for Gender Reassignment Surgeries, and as you can imagine, it was a bubbling pot of transphobia. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “The Family Research Council (FRC) bills itself as ‘the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power’, but its real specialty is defaming LGBTQ people.”
One of the boldest claims read: “As president-elect, Joe Biden promised to bring unity to our country. Providing our service members with the resources to keep our country safe would help move our country in this direction. Instead, president Biden is diverting precious dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery.”
This is a misleading and ludicrous thing to claim, for many reasons. The first is that no one is forcing the military to do anything, or diverting funds to pay for gender reassignment surgery.
The military’s health insurance provider, TRICARE, already covers hormone therapy and psychological counselling for gender dysphoria. They don’t generally cover surgery, however “active duty service members may request a waiver if their provider deems surgery medically necessary”.
This was the case well before Biden put pen to paper and signed the order. The pages we link to above were last updated in August 2020.
The Family Research Council also describe it as a ‘costly’ policy, before linking to a largely meaningless and questionable report into those costs written by (guess who) the Family Research Council in 2019, a sample of which reads: “Since implementation of the [Obama/]Carter policy, the medical costs for service members with gender dysphoria have increased nearly three times – or 300% – compared to Service member without gender dysphoria (sic).”
The report then takes a flying leap to say: “The Family Research Council had previously attempted to estimate what the cumulative cost of the Obama/Carter transgender military policy might be. We concluded that the cost could be as high as $1.9 to $3.7 billion over the next ten years.” They also claim “administrative costs could drive that total even higher”.
Even based on the limited information that has actually been made available, it’s clear that those costs are far, far lower. A drop in the ocean, in fact.
According to data obtained by USA Today in 2019, the Pentagon spent almost $8 million to treat 1,525 transgender troops between 2016 and 2019. This includes 161 surgical procedures. The majority of the money went to fund psychotherapy sessions.
In fact, when the Pentagon did pay for a transgender soldier’s reassignment surgery in 2017, it was such an unusual occurrence that it made headlines, and also marked the first time the Pentagon had ever done so.
These 1,500 transgender troops that were treated during that time period represent an almost vanishingly tiny fraction of the total US military manpower of around 2.24 million, and the health costs are also tiny when you consider that the the Pentagon’s 2019 budget was $716 billion.
To put it into context, the Pentagon spends about $50 billion per year on health care.
The RAND corporation’s 2016 report Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly, also found that the costs of gender transition healthcare were low, and that “even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.”
In short, that $8 million over three years that we have factual proof for is certainly a long way from the fabricated ten-year figure of $3.7 billion put out by the Family Research Council – and we can confidently proclaim that no one is forcing the military to sell their guns to pay for top surgery.
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