WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military on Friday to reject openly transgender people as new recruits but authorized Defense Secretary James Mattis to decide how to handle transgender personnel already serving in the armed forces.
Trump also ordered the military to stop paying for gender reassignment surgical procedures by March 23 except to protect the health of someone who has already begun the process of reassigning sex, according to a senior White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The Defense Department will have six months to consider how to handle openly transgender people currently serving in the military under a memorandum that Trump signed Friday, the official said. The memorandum directs the department to consider unit cohesion, applicable law and resources in making the determination, the official said.
Trump announced July 26 he would ban transgender people from serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. military, reversing President Barack Obama’s policy to let them serve openly in the ranks.
The announcement, in a series of early morning tweets, caught Pentagon officials and key members of Congress off guard, and the Pentagon said it wouldn’t change its policies until it received a formal order from the president.
“There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance,” the office of Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford said in a statement after Trump’s July tweets. “In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.”
That formal notification came in a presidential memorandum Trump signed Friday, the White House official said.
Trump said in July his concern hinged on the additional medical costs and “disruption” of such troops. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited “military readiness and unit cohesion.”
Care related to gender reassignment costs the Pentagon $2.4 million to $8.4 million annually, the larger number a little more than 0.1 percent of the military’s entire health care bill, according to a 2016 RAND Corp. study. By contrast, the military spent $84 million on Viagra and other drugs for erectile dysfunction for active-duty troops, eligible family members and retirees in 2014 alone, the Military Times reported.
Treatment of transgender people has become a flashpoint in the U.S. culture wars as social conservatives lead fights in some states to require that students and sometimes adults use school and public restrooms corresponding to their gender at birth.
Trump had attempted as a candidate to thread a needle between the two sides. In his campaign, he cultivated evangelical voters while at the same time promising to “fight for” the gay and transgender community.
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