Two months after the administration’s transgender military ban went into effect, President Donald Trump has trotted out a new—and false—justification for the rule: that the military does not allow prescription drugs.
Trump made the claim on Good Morning Britain in an interview Wednesday morning with his friend Piers Morgan. When asked why he implemented the ban, Trump said that he was considering the requirements of sex reassignment surgery. “Because they take massive amounts of drugs. They have to,” he said. “You’re not allowed to take drugs—you’re in the military, you’re not allowed to take any drugs. And they have to after the operation, they have to, they have no choice, they have to. You would actually have to break rules and regulations in order to have that.”
That assertion is false in several ways. The first is that, while the new rule effectively bans all transgender troops, not all transgender people get, or want, sex reassignment surgery. Similarly, not all take prescription hormones to alter their physical characteristics without the surgery. But even for those who do, this logic would not hold up: There are no military rules or regulations against the kinds of drugs Trump is talking about.
In fact, the Navy has recently changed its rule preventing people on prescription medication for depression and anxiety from serving as pilots. Most other restrictions on prescription drugs for certain types of service members have been relaxed, according to the Washington Post. And according to Bloomberg News, the Pentagon has said it will pay for all medically necessary medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In the interview, Trump also repeated a line of reasoning he’s trotted out before: complaining about the cost of health care for transgender people. Morgan challenged Trump on the cost of the hormone drugs, arguing they were “minuscule” when put in perspective with the entire military’s budget. Trump responded by focusing instead on the costs of the sex reassignment surgery. “The recovery period is long, and they have to take large amounts of drugs after that for whatever reason,” Trump said. “So I said, yeah, when it came time to make a decision on that and because of the drugs and also because of the cost of the operation.”
According to the Pentagon’s comptroller, the military spent roughly $44 billion on health care costs in 2018. Between 2016 and February of this year, the military spent about $8 million on medical services for transgender people.
In April, a version of the transgender ban that Trump first proposed in a 2017 tweet finally took effect, after a number of court challenges (several of which are still moving forward). While the policy is not technically a blanket ban, those diagnosed with gender dysphoria and taking hormones or those who have already transitioned medically are not allowed to enlist. While service members who were already undergoing hormone treatments or sex reassignment surgery would be grandfathered into continued medical care, those who have not are mandated to follow the military’s rules for their sex assigned at birth or risk being discharged. The effect, transgender rights advocates have argued, is in practice a full ban.