U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, praised President Donald Trump Friday for instructing the U.S. military to reject openly transgender recruits and withhold most payments for sex reassignment surgeries for those already serving.
Hartzler had for weeks pressured Trump, a fellow Republican, to reverse an Obama administration policy that enabled transgender troops to serve openly and undergo sex reassignment surgery while under military health care.
A statement about Trump’s decision released by her office focused largely on U.S. Department of Defense finances.
“Military service is a privilege, not a right,” Hartzler said in the statement. “I’m pleased to see the President putting military readiness first and making sure our defense dollars are spent keeping us safe. With the growing threats from Iran, North Korea, China and others, the U.S. military cannot afford to divert precious defense dollars from our national security. Every dollar must be spent investing in new military technology, getting the right equipment for our troops, and making sure we are protected from threats across the globe.”
Studies by the RAND Corporation and the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016 and 2015 found that the cost of transition services for transgender troops would represent less than 0.2 percent of the military’s $48 billion annual health care budget because there’s relatively few transgender servicemen and women and not all of them would want reassignment surgery.
The directive Trump signed Friday gives Defense Secretary James Mattis the authority to decide whether to discharge or keep transgender troops who are already serving. But it states that the department won’t pay for reassignment surgery unless it’s necessary to protect the health of an enlisted man or woman who is already transitioning.
Jason Kander, a Democratic former Missouri Secretary of State who served in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army intelligence officer, said Saturday that he disagreed with Trump’s directive.
“These are people who have the courage to serve their country,” Kander said. “You know, when I was in the service we didn’t care about whether somebody was gay or straight or transgender. That’s not what we talked about. We talked about getting the job done.”