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Transgender transition care will cost the military this much

August 13, 2015, 2:50 PM UTC
The Pentagon building in Washington, DC
This picture taken December 26, 2011 shows the Pentagon building in Washington, DC. Headquarters of the United States Department of Defense (DOD), the Pentagon is the world's largest office building by floor area, with about 6,500,000 sq ft (600,000 m2), of which 3,700,000 sq ft (340,000 m2) are used as offices. Approximately 23,000 military and civilian employees and about 3,000 non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
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During last week’s Republican debate, president candidate Mike Huckabee said that he wasn’t sure “how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines makes our country safer.”

New analysis shows that the costs Huckabee alluded to won’t be much at all.

Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, told Reuters that transition care for transgender members of the United States military would cost around $5.6 million—an amount he called “little more than a rounding error,” considering the military’s total expenditure. The $5.6 million sum breaks down to $0.22 per service member per month.

Belkin arrived at his conclusion by estimating how many closeted transgender people currently serve, and examining the precedent set by Australia, which already funds transgender-related care. The surgery and hormone therapy often included in transition care for transgender individuals can run around $30,000 over the course of several years. Belkin predicts that about 188 service members would receive such care. The prevalence of transgender individuals in the military is twice as high as in the general population—a fact that might be attributable to “many transgender women – those born male but identifying as female – seek[ing] to prove to themselves that they are not transgender by joining the military and trying to fit into its hypermasculine culture,” Belkin told Reuters.

The analysis is noteworthy because in July, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed his support of transgender individuals serving openly in the military; he asked a working group to examine the issue with the presumption that transgender people can serve openly without adverse effect.

Many corporations—one-third of Fortune 500 companies—offer transgender-inclusive healthcare. Early data on the city of San Francisco’s coverage of transgender-related healthcare showed that the benefit was not all that costly, which helped it go mainstream.