All soldiers deserve support

Brandon Amato, Opinion Editor

Imagine you’re a soldier in southwest Afghanistan. You’re six months into your third deployment in the conflict-torn country. As bombs go off intermittently in the distance, all you can think about is your family back home, and how you promised them this was the last time.

All the sudden, you’re stirred back to reality by radio communication ordering you back to base. Your Lieutenant proceeds to give you what will be your last command in the United States Army. Although he speaks for almost an hour, the phase “General Discharge for medical reasons” is the last thing you hear, as the sound of your hopes and dreams crashing down around you are louder than any gunfire or explosion you’ve ever heard in your 16 years in the United States Army.

You’ve just been discharged from the Army for your status as a “person who is transgender.” Donald Trump, your President and Commander-in-Chief, has deemed you a “burden and a disruption” to U.S military efforts. 

According to Tweets made late last month by President Trump, transgender recruits and transgender people who are actively serving in the military are a tremendous medical burden and disruption to U.S. military efforts. So much so, that he appears to be in the early stages of drastically reversing the path of inclusion the Pentagon had been on in the latter years of the Obama Administration by banning trans people from enlisting and serving in the military. According to a 2014 study done by The Williams Institute, there are over 15,000 active-duty transgender service members that could be directly affected by this military ban, not to mention 134,000 transgender veterans who inevitably will be affected, as well.

Essentially what we have from President Trump is the argument that because the costs in terms of dollars, time, and what one Whitehouse spokeswoman calls “readiness and cohesion” are counterproductive to our military’s need to be “focused on decisive and overwhelming victory,” it is no longer in our country’s best interest to allow transgender people to enlist or serve in any capacity.

At this point the announcement itself isn’t news, per se, nor is any of it surprising given Trump’s affinity for announcing major policy via Twitter, as well as his ever-growing contempt for non-whites, non-heteros, non-Protestants, non-cisgenders, the list goes on. But what we need to stop and truly think about are the prejudicial precedents he is setting and the major impact this could have on an entire group of people.

It’s one thing to make a politically-charged decision that people disagree with based on solid facts and figures. It’s also one thing to have your own values and beliefs wherever they fall on the many so-called spectrums. What is especially troubling about this directive from our Commander-in-Chief is what little factual basis it actually has.

According to a RAND Corp study last year, the estimated healthcare costs of allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. This is about a 0.04 per cent to 0.13 per cent increase in healthcare spending on active military.

After reading statistics from the Department of Defense website, and an incredibly dense Congressional Issue Brief on Military Medical Care Services from 2005, I found out that the Department of Defense spends $6.28 billion each year on active military health care and $49.3 billion on all medical activities, providing benefits to retirees, active duty personnel and their dependents, as well as some former spouses.

If we are to actually believe from these numbers that, as Trump said in his Tweets, trans servicemen and servicewomen are a “tremendous medical cost,” then we have to also believe that any military personnel with dependents and spouses – or plans to have dependents or spouses – are also a burden, and therefore should be banned from the U.S. military. Does anybody else think banning essentially every single person in the country from serving and protecting our country is a bad idea? I thought so.

So there you have it. I wrestled with every argument Trump seems to be making in support of this policy. I’ve read the Tweets, the statements and responses of the Pentagon and Whitehouse spokespeople. I even read an incredibly boring Congressional Report to better understand where the other 99.9 percent of military medical expenses comes from.

The bottom line is that President Trump has politicized gender transformation by announcing drastic and premature policy directives that could subject up to 15,000 transgender people currently serving and 134,000 trans veterans to discrimination, not to mention the impact it would have on the countless future military enlistees who are transgender.

Editor’s note: You should know that I didn’t become the editor of the Clarion’s Opinion section to simply report news. Yes, that is one of my many responsibilities, and I intend on doing it both accurately and fairly in those areas where objective news reporting is called for. What interests me far more, however, is journalism that puts things into perspective, that allows people – including myself – to share their thoughts and feelings about the issues that impact our lives and the lives of those in and around our communities. This is the space where opinions are welcome, neigh, encouraged.