Banning transgender troops would cost 100 times more than letting them serve

A new study proves that the numbers just don't add up.

A sign from a Times Square protest of President Trump's ban on transgender military service. CREDIT: Rainmaker Photo/MediaPunch/IPX
A sign from a Times Square protest of President Trump's ban on transgender military service. CREDIT: Rainmaker Photo/MediaPunch/IPX

A new study from the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that the cost of implementing President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military service would far exceed the costs of actually letting transgender people serve their country.

According to the study, it would cost $960 million to discharge all of the transgender servicemembers already serving in the military. This is based on an estimate that there are currently 12,800 transgender troops and the cost to recruit and train their replacements would be $75,000 each.

Comparatively, the RAND Corporation, a military think tank, estimated last year that the military would spend at most $8.4 million per year covering the health care needs of trans servicemembers. Though the RAND study offered a more conservative estimate of how many trans individuals are currently serving in the military, it relied on similar estimates about how many servicemembers would require transition-related care each year.

One of the primary arguments Trump, his surrogates, Republican members of Congress, and other conservatives have offered for the ban is the cost of these medical expenses. The Palm Center report unpacks the flaws in the more outrageous estimates each group has so far offered up.


Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), one of the most vocal opponents of trans military service, claimed that the military would need to spend $1.35 billion over 10 years on transition-related care. Though her office refused on several occasions to explain the source of that number to ThinkProgress, the Palm Center study offers an explanation. Hartzler likely assumed that far more trans servicemembers would seek surgery than actual utilization rates suggest. She also assumed that each person would require “the full catalog of surgical options.” Both of these faulty assumptions over-inflated her results.

“Rep. Hartzler’s estimates were calculated by her office staff, whose scholarly credentials are unknown,” the study notes.

The Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-LGBTQ hate group, arrived at an even more absurd result, claiming the military would need to spend $3.7 billion over the next 10 years on transition-related care. FRC made some of the same assumptions as Hartzler, but also unnecessarily figured in a one-year leave of absence for each transitioning servicemember, “an assumption that is inconsistent with scholarship on gender transition as well as the experiences of foreign militaries that allow transgender personnel to serve.” FRC’s numbers are also based on studies about how many trans people say they intend to have surgery — not the actual rates at which they do.

The price tag for Trump’s proposed ban, the study concludes, “is more than 100 times greater than the annual cost of retaining transgender service members and providing for their health care needs.”

Though Trump has insisted that he is “doing the military a great favor,” the proposed ban remains in limbo because the White House has yet to actually issue any guidance for its implementation.