Thursday, December 7, 2017

Transgender People in Military Service

Transgender people have served with honor, for decades.  We proudly and patriotically volunteered to serve in our nations armed forces, and we feel this assault doubly on our identity, on who we are.  Our brothers, our sisters, our family and allies have been targeted.  We know the price of freedom, and this test of our freedom and resolve cannot be allowed to pass.

I was a transgender person in the US Navy, not out, but a dedicated and patriotic person there to serve my country and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.

Being transgender but not out made life considerably harder.

Sharon Brown, a Navy veteran now working as director of human resources at the Los Angeles LGBT Center described this.  “You’re less productive, you’re always on guard,” she explained. “It takes a lot of energy to hide who you are when that energy could be used for other things. When you can be open, you’re much happier, you’re much more engaged. The sun truly comes up when you’re allowed to be who you are and it’s shining all day long because you can actually serve as your authentic self and be proud of who you are.”

I worked very hard, as many trans military members do, and like many other trans folks, was an overachiever.  I was in the Navy Nuclear Power Program, and I impressed the staff sufficiently that I was asked to stay on for two years as an instructor after I completed the Nuclear Power Schools.  Following that tour, I was assigned to a submarine, one of the most decorated boats in the fleet, and crewed by more overachievers.  And yes, as I found out years later, that included several other trans folks.  I racked up more awards.

I received the Navy Achievement Medal, several presidential citations and command citations.  I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics.  My crew was awarded the Nave Expeditionary Medal for our mission performance, along with the Battle ‘E’ and Engineering ‘E.  Besides my primary Engineering duties, I took on duties in the fire control racking party, damage control party, and was assistant ship’s photographer, recording mission data and assembling media for reports to COMSUBPAC.  I was the Engineering Dept 3M Coordinator, overseeing all maintenance and care for the nuclear power plant, engines and support systems.

Trans folks tend to be driven overachievers.  (Just ask anyone who knows me…)  We work hard to try and be accepted, far harder than those born with their assigned sex and gender identity in line, because we really do have something we need to prove.

We trans folks are among the best and brightest in the service.  And yet, our president thinks that discarding us is just fine, because we don't meet some ideological purity test.  He thinks that discarding us is doing the military a favor!

We are people like Kristin Beck, the first former Navy SEAL to come out as transgender.
We are people like Carla Lewis, brilliant, yet when it was discovered that she had sought help with gender identity issues, was cast out of the Air Force.

We are people like Emma Shin, who served from 1994 to 2014 in six deployments in the Marine Corps, including a combat posting in Fallujah, Iraq as an infantry platoon captain.

We are people like Paula Neira, a nurse and an attorney, who served for 10 years in the US Navy, and more recently was chosen as one of the experts to be consulted by the military as part of the 2016 decision to allow open service for transgender Americans.

We need these thousands of our best and brightest.  We need their skills, determination, and tenacity.

Oh, the expense!

A report by the Rand Corporation, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, states that having transgender members of the armed forces would not compromise military readiness, ability to deploy or require a significant increase in health care costs. According to the report, there are approximately 1,320 to 6,600 active transgender service members. Of those, only a fraction — between 29 and 129 — would be expected to seek transition-specific medical care annually. This would cost an estimated $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, an amount that will have “little impact” on overall military health expenditures, according to the report. 

The report is quite detailed, at 112 pages, and is worth a read if you happen to be a policy wonk.

There are probably around 15,000 transgender service members if we include active reserves, and around 150,000 transgender people if we include veterans.  That’s a lot of people to tick off.  That’s a lot of dedicated folks to replace and train.

When these service personnel are honorably discharged the expense does not disappear, but simply shift to the Veterans Administration.  There is no real savings.  Note that trying to make being out as a transgender person an event worthy of a dishonorable discharge with a presidential memorandum would be an unconstitutional breach of Article 1 Section 18 of the US Constitution, as all judicial changes for the military are powers assigned to Congress by the constitution. 

The expense really is pretty small.  The budget for Viagra tablets is several times the expected cost of gender confirmation surgeries.   Very few persons will receive this surgery in any given year.  Most transgender people never seek out gender confirmation surgery, but find other medical treatments such as hormone replacement therapy to be sufficient. 

The impact on readiness argument is similarly foolish.  Very few persons will receive this surgery in any given year. The Rand study estimated the possibility of 30 to 140 new hormone treatments a year in the military, with 25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries among active service members annually. Following gender confirmation surgery the military member is ready for light duty in about 2 months, and deployable after 6 to 8 months.  Compare this with a torn and surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, a common knee injury which would have a three month recovery time and include physical therapy before the soldier could be deployed.

The expense to recruit a replacement for the discharged service member is about $75,000.  The training cost may be an additional $100,000 to $1,000,000.  Think about it.  Building and operating a nuclear power plant for the purpose of training 200 people a year is not cheap, but there is no way to gain that experience with classroom work and simulations.
A new report from Palm Center, the public policy planning group, states that the cost of replacing troops is about one hundred times the cost of providing their medical care.