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Fact-checking Trump’s reasons for a transgender military ban

August 28, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
Following a tweet from President Trump that said transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military, the White House issued a memorandum on Friday asking the Defense Department to finalize new rules about what to do with existing trans service members within the next six months. William Brangham discusses the new directive with Agnes Gereben Schaefer of the RAND Corporation.
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MILES O’BRIEN: Now to another controversial move announced by the White House late Friday, this time about transgender people serving in the military. Today, human rights groups filed two lawsuits against the ban.

William Brangham brings us up to date.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The White House issued memorandum that followed through on President Trump’s unexpected tweets last month where he said that transgender people wouldn’t be accepted or allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Friday’s memo said allowing trans service members could — quote — “hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, and tax military resources.”

The memorandum asked the Defense Department to finalize new rules about what to do with the estimated several thousand active-duty trans service members.

For more on all this, we turn to Agnes Gereben Schaefer. She’s a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and was the lead author of a 2016 study for the Defense Department about transgender people in the military.

Welcome to NewsHour.

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER, RAND Corporation: Thank you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, you were tasked to do this study back in 2016, when the Obama administration was trying to figure out what to do with regards to transgender service members.

And what was the overall sort of focus of your study?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: So, the Office of the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness asked us to conduct a study with a very distinct mandate.

And that included looking at the estimated transgender population in the military, seeing how many of those transgender service members would be likely to seek gender-transition-related treatment, what the costs would be of extending health care coverage to the transgender community in the military, and what the potential readiness implications might be associated with some of those medical treatments that they may undertake, and, lastly, what lessons could be learned from foreign militaries that had already allowed transgender individuals to serve openly.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president in his tweets cited two main concerns that he had that made it why he wanted to do this.

Costs was one of the things. He was — referred to these as tremendous medical costs. I know you looked at this in your study. What are the costs?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: So, we estimated that the cost would be about between $2.4 and $8.4 million.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is per year?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: Per year, exactly. And that represents four-tenths to one-tenth of a percent of the active component health care budget for 2014, which are the numbers that — the base numbers that we used.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, a minuscule fraction.

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: Well, what is driving this is really the — our estimate of the total number of transgender individuals in the military. And they’re small numbers, less than 11,000 across the active and reserve component.

And so those small numbers drive small costs. And the other thing to take into account is that not all transgender service members will undertake these medical treatments, like surgeries and hormone replacement. But the surgeries is really what was driving the costs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The other thing that the president cited as a main driver of why he wanted to change the policy was disruption to the military services. What did you find in that regard?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: So, we found that the readiness impact of transgender-related treatments would lead to a loss of less than 1 percent of the total available man or labor years across the active component.

In fact, the number that we estimate is .0015 percent of those labor years.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Again, pretty small number.

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: A small — exactly, because, again, not — the number of individuals that we think will use these or take these medical treatments is small.

So, we estimate between 25 and 130 active component members would actually have surgical treatments.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, and very quickly, I understand you looked at the experiences of, I think, 18 other countries?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: Yes.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Did any of those other nations have a problem that they felt they needed to get transgender service members out of their services?

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: So, we didn’t find any readiness or cohesion implications.

There were anecdotal concerns about bullying, but they were able to deal with that through policy changes.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, thank you very much.

AGNES GEREBEN SCHAEFER: Thank you.

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