Starting today, the U.S. military will pay for gender reassignment surgery for transgender soldiers, a program that could cost up to $8.4 million a year.
The Defense Department’s policy states that if a soldier’s ability to serve is “adversely affected by a medical condition or medical treatment related to their gender identity,” they are eligible for reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, subject to a commander’s approval for the timing.
By the RAND Corp.’s estimate in a June 2016 study, there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender troops on active duty. Of those, between 30 and 140 would prefer hormone treatment, and 25 to 130 would seek surgery.
The surgery will either be conducted at a military hospital or a private hospital if the former lacks the qualified care, USA Today reports.
Those in the military who oppose the policy argue that since gender reassignment surgery makes it impossible for soldiers to deploy for up to 135 days, the money spent on surgery could be better used elsewhere.
“I think this is a gross misuse of military medical dollars.”
— Ron Crews, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said military personnel are also getting transgender education, which takes valuable time.
However, the Palm Center, a pro-LGBT armed forces group, welcomed the move.
Aaron Belkin, director of the Center, said surgery could reduce the number of suicides among transgender troops.
“The military’s continued progress in integrating transgender service members is a tribute to core principles and values.”
— Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center