Metro Weekly

Pentagon will pay for transgender soldier’s gender confirmation surgery

Under interim guidance, transgender soldiers are still entitled to the same health benefits as their cisgender peers

The Pentagon. Photo: Department of Defense – Photo: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia.

An active-duty transgender service member underwent gender confirmation surgery this week after the Pentagon agreed to cover the procedure.

The procedure took place despite objections by President Trump and Republican lawmakers to providing insurance coverage for such surgeries.

The soldier, who identifies as a woman, received a waiver from Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, the head of the Defense Health Agency, which provides medical care to active-duty personnel, reports NBC News. The procedure was not performed on military property or by military medical personnel.

Even though President Trump has announced plans to institute a ban on transgender service members starting in March 2018, under interim guidance put in place by the Pentagon, transgender service members are still allowed to serve, and receive coverage for any medically necessary medical procedures, just as their cisgender peers do.

“This afternoon, an active-duty military member received a sex-reassignment surgery. Military hospitals do not have the surgical expertise to perform this type of surgery, therefore it was conducted in a private hospital,” the Pentagon said in a statement to NBC.

“Because this service member had already begun a sex-reassignment course of treatment, and the treating doctor deemed this surgery medically necessary, a waiver was approved by the director of the Defense Health Agency. The Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with the Department’s interim guidance on transgender Service members.”

When Trump initially announced the future ban, he specifically cited the cost of providing transgender health care, including gender confirmation surgery, as one of his justifications for preventing transgender people from enlisting or re-enlisting once their tours of duty are finished.

Prior to that announcement, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) had led a push for Congress to pass a bill prohibiting the Pentagon from covering any transition-related health care expenses for transgender service members, regardless of whether treatments or procedures had been deemed medically necessary by their doctors.

Meanwhile, at least four separate lawsuits have challenged the president’s proposed ban on transgender military personnel. In one of those cases, based out of the District of Columbia, a federal judge has issued an injunction preventing the Pentagon from implementing the ban.

A study by the RAND Corporation last year found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would have “minimal impact” on military readiness and health care costs.

That study predicted that the cost of providing hormone treatment or gender confirmation surgeries to those transgender individuals with gender dysphoria would cost only slightly more than $8 million per year, a small amount relative to the billions of dollars in the Department of Defense’s annual budget.

A similar study in 2015 published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that transition-related expenses would be “negligible” and would amount to “little more than a rounding error.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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