A Transgender Soldier Had Gender Confirmation Surgery, And, For The First Time, The Pentagon Paid For It

"Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with Department's interim guidance on transgender Service members."

The current administration may oppose the presence of transgender people in the armed forces, but the Pentagon confirmed an active-duty military member underwent gender confirmation surgery on November 14, which the Department of Defense paid for. This marked the first time the Pentagon has footed the bill for such a procedure under a waiver approved by the Defense Health Agency.

According to NBC News, the outlet that broke the story, the transgender woman in question got her Combat Infantry Badge in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2003.

The surgery, and the fact that the Pentagon paid for it, has been confirmed by Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White. "This afternoon, an active-duty military member received a sex-reassignment surgery," White said in a statement to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. "Military hospitals do not have the surgical expertise to perform this type of surgery, therefore it was conducted in a private hospital."

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"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 statement continued. "The Supplemental Health Care Program will cover this surgery in accordance with the Department's interim guidance on transgender service members."

It's worth noting that this course of action is in direct conflict with the current administration's view of transgender troops. In July, President Trump sent out a series of tweets stipulating transgender people cannot "serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," and in August he signed a memo that bared new transgender recruits and stopped funding for gender confirmation surgery.

However, a federal judge blocked both bans last month, paving the way for yesterday's surgery. The judge's actions came roughly one month after a bipartisan bill to stop the ban was introduced. That effort was championed by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican.

And though many in the current administration have argued transgender troops are both costly and distracting, the Obama administration conducted studies last year that showed transgender troops would not burden the military. In fact, a 2016 RAND Corporation study found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would "have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs."

More specifically, the study estimated there are between 1,320 and 6,530 active-duty members out of 1.3 million service members, and calculated that hormone treatments and surgeries would cost about $2.4 to $8.4 million a year. Though that amount may seem high, it represents roughly 0.017 percent of the Pentagon's overall budget, according to Forbes. By contrast, as many have argued in defense of transgender troops, the Pentagon spent spent $41.6 million on Viagra — and $84.24 million total on erectile dysfunction prescriptions — last year. 

Cover image via Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych.

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