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Factcheck: Trump and Transgender Service Members

RAND Corp. estimated that anywhere from 29 to 129 active-duty service members would seek such medical treatment each year among the force of 1.3 million members

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    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended a new Trump administration policy banning transgender service members from the military, saying it was an "expensive and disruptive" policy. (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    In announcing he would ban transgender people from the military, President Donald Trump cited “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Whether the cost is “tremendous” is opinion, but a government-funded report found that allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military would likely have a “marginal impact” on health care costs and military readiness.

    The report, released last year by the RAND Corp., estimated the additional cost at “between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” It also found that “less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.”

    The RAND report was commissioned by the Defense Department after then-Secretary Ash Carter announced in July 2015 that the military would study “the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly.”

    Nearly a year later, Carter announced a new policy that immediately allowed transgender service members “to openly serve in the U.S. armed forces” without fear of discharge. The policy also set a date of July 1, 2017, for allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces. The delay was designed to develop training plans, revise regulations and forms, and implement guidance.

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    In a series of tweets on July 26, President Donald Trump said transgender people are no longer allowed in the military. In the past, Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, have promoted their support of the LGBT community.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    On June 30, the Defense Department under Trump delayed the start date for accepting transgender service members until Jan. 1, 2018. In a June 30 memo obtained by the Associated Press, Defense Secretary James Mattis told service chiefs and secretaries that he would “use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.”

    Associated Press, July 1: Mattis said the review by the services must be completed by Dec. 1, and he noted that his approval of a delay “does not presuppose the outcome of the review.” He said the additional time will ensure he has “the benefit of the views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials who are now arriving in the department.”

    However, in a series of tweets, Trump abruptly announced the policy change before the end of the six-month review period.

    Let’s look at what we know about the number of transgender individuals currently serving in the military and their potential impact on health care costs and military readiness.

    In making his announcement that the military would accept transgender service members, Carter said that “there isn’t definitive data on the number of transgender service members.” But he cited RAND’s study of existing estimates “and their best estimate was that about 2,500 people out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty service members, and about 1,500 out of 825,000 reserve service members are transgender.” Those were mid-range estimates with the upper end of the ranges being 6,630 for active duty and 4,160 for the reserves.

    So we are talking about a small subset of active and reserve service members. The number of service members that would seek gender transition–related medical treatment is even smaller.

    Private health insurance data show that “0.022 to 0.0396 annual claimants per 1,000 individuals” seek transition-related health care each year. Based on that, RAND estimated that anywhere from 29 to 129 active-duty service members would seek such medical treatment each year among the force of 1.3 million members.

    Although Trump described the cost as “tremendous,” RAND estimated that providing transition-related health care would increase the military’s health care costs for active-duty members “by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.” That represents an increase of no more than 0.13 percent of the $6.27 billion spent on the health of active-duty members in fiscal 2014.

    As for military readiness, the RAND report said: “Similarly, when assessing the readiness impact of a policy change, we found that less than 0.0015 percent of the total available labor-years would be affected, based on estimated gender transition–related health care utilization rates. This is because even at upper-bound estimates, less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.”

    The report was less definitive regarding the impact of transgender individuals on “unit cohesion.” RAND said its review of data from the civilian population, foreign militaries, and previous integration experiences of gays, lesbians and women “suggest a minimal impact on unit cohesion.” But it acknowledged that its conclusion “may not hold for transgender service members.”

    FactCheck.org is a non-partisan non-profit organization that will hold candidates and key figures accountable during the 2016 presidential campaign. FactCheck.org will check facts of speeches, advertisements and more for NBC.