Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trump's Transgender Military Ban: An Exercise in Sheer Ignorance

I expect politicians to break at least some campaign promises when they enter office. It is not feasible to keep every single last campaign promise. Even so, it baffles me when a politician backs down on a promise with little to gain or does so with little to no evidence. Enter President Trump and his tweeting from yesterday. Back during the campaign in 2016, then-presidential candidate Trump promised that he would fight for the LGBT community. Fast-forward to this week when he stated his intent to reinstate the transgender military ban.

When Trump tweeted his intention to pass the ban, he brought up two arguments that have been commonly used to justify the ban. The first argument is that the health costs specific to transgender soldiers are too high. The second argument is that the presence of transgender soldiers diminishes military readiness, especially when considering that transgender people have a higher rate of depression and suicide. This goes beyond a politician's ability or inability to keep campaign promises, but as to whether Trump is correct in using these justifications.

To answer this question, the Department of Defense (DoD) commissioned the Rand Corporation in 2016 (see report here). The Rand Corporation is a research firm that has had the DoD as a client for decades, and for good reason: Rand is a nonpartisan firm that is good at what it does. As such, its 2016 study is the most in-depth study on the topic. What I will do now is present the Rand findings while addressing Trump's two main concerns.

Transgender Soldiers' Medical Costs
Trump's first claim is that transgender soldiers are going to be too tremendous for the budget. Let us keep in mind that out of the 1,347,300 serving the military, only an estimated 1,320 to 6,630 are transgender (Rand, p. 16). Rand proceeds to estimate that the annual costs are anywhere between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, with the baseline estimate being between $2.4 million and $3.4 million (ibid., p. 36). With the DoD spending $43.9 billion in health care expenditures (ibid., p. xii), this would only represent an increase of the active component health care budget by 0.04 to 0.13 percent. To put this in perspective, 0.04 to 0.09 percent of the soldiers are consuming 0.005 to 0.019 percent of active-component health care expenditures. These numbers are showing that transgender soldiers are not consuming a disproportionate amount of health care expenditures by any means. The New England Journal of Medicine came to the similar conclusion that medical costs are negligible (Belkin, 2015).

And let's not forget something else: the cost of removing transgender individuals currently serving. It's not like removing already-hard-to-find soldiers from the labor market doesn't come with a cost. When the DOD was considering the cost of removing homosexual soldiers from the military, the Government Accountability Office found that it would cost $52,800...and that was in 2009 dollars! Adjusting for inflation, that would be about $61,200. In 2009 dollars, that would mean $52,800 for each soldier plus the $50,655 to recruit and train each soldier. Even if we take Rand's lower estimate of 1,320 transgender soldiers serving, that would cost $135.6 million. The high end of replacing these soldiers would be $685.9 million [in 2009 dollars]. If we adjusted for inflation, it would cost $157-$795 million to replace the transgender soldiers currently serving. Even if we assume that the estimated health costs are on the high end of $8.4 million (which is improbable since it is not in Rand's baseline estimate), it would take 19 years minimum for Trump to recoup the loss of discharging the current transgender soldiers.

If Trump is so worried about money being spent, why not worry about the $84 million the DoD spends annually on erectile dysfunction medicine? Even better yet, why isn't Trump interested in cutting military spending as a whole when the United States is not fighting any major wars and already accounts for 36.2 percent of global military expenditures? If Trump truly worried about tremendous costs, his focus on transgender soldiers' health care costs is woefully misplaced.

Transgender Soldiers' Effect on Military Readiness
In addition to looking at health costs, the Rand study also addressed military readiness. For one, the Rand study estimated that transition-related treatment would affect anywhere from 29 to 129 soldiers annually (Rand, p. 69), which at best, is 2 percent of transgendered soldiers. Even in spite of the mental health issues disproportionately affecting transgender individuals, the Rand study ended up concluding that "there has been no significant effect of openly serving transgender service members on cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness (p. 44)." Not only do transgender soldiers not diminish readiness, but transgender soldiers contribute to their units effectively (p. 60), and the diversity brought about by their presence can actually improve readiness (p. 61).

Rand also drew upon the experience of 18 countries that allow for transgenders to serve, including the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Given the constant threats the IDF faces, you would think that if anyone could not afford to lose readiness, it is the IDF. And yet, it has not been an issue for the IDF (p. 55), and it has not been an issue for other countries that allow transgender individuals to serve. Eighteen other countries that have allowed for transgender people to serve in the military, and none of them have had problems. Why can't the United States come to the same conclusion?

Perhaps it is political expediency or perhaps it is because Trump does not want our attention diverted from something else. What I do have wonder is how anyone could seriously construe transgender individuals serving in the military as a problem. The transgender military ban is based on zero empirical evidence. Much like with the transgender bathroom ban, it is a solution without a problem. Transgender people should be allowed to voluntarily serve in the military, just like any other able-bodied citizen. Ultimately, I hope that Trump reverses this ban and keeps to his campaign promise. In the meantime, we the people have to be more diligent in making sure that the LGBT community is not further target the Trump administration because if the rights of the LGBT become eroded, it will only become a matter of time before all of our civil rights become eroded.

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