Donald Trump Defends Transgender Military Ban By Falsely Claiming Military Doesn’t Allow Prescription Drug Use

Donald Trump waves from atop Air Force One.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Donald Trump is defending his controversial ban on transgender members serving in the military with a false claim that the military does not allow prescription drug use.

The president was put on the spot regarding the ban in an interview with Piers Morgan that was broadcast on Wednesday. In the interview, Trump claimed that it was “drug use” that led to the ban, a different explanation that he had initially offered when first announcing the ban.

“Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to,” Trump said, via Bloomberg. “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.”

As the Bloomberg report noted, the military does not prohibit service members from taking prescription drugs. It noted that the Navy even changed a policy last year to allow pilots and other aircrew members on prescription drugs for depression and anxiety to continue flying.

When the ban on transgender military members was first announced, Donald Trump claimed that medical costs for these service members were too expensive.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted at the time. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

But a study conducted by the Rand Corporation found that what Trump referred to as the “tremendous” annual medical costs associated with transgender people serving in the military was really somewhere between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year — which represented just 0.13 percent of health care expenditures for all service members. The report added that there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members, and not all of them seek medical treatment for gender transitions.

Morgan challenged Trump about his claim that the medical costs are too high, but Trump claimed that there were “massive amounts of people” asking for gender transition operations. There are a total of 1.3 million active duty service members, according to the Department of Defense. If the highest end of the Rand Corporate estimate is correct, and every one of them was seeking gender transition surgery, it would represent less than 0.5 percent of the military.

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Trump’s claim was attacked again this week. The Palm Center, a research group that worked with the Obama administration when the previous ban on transgender military members was repealed, spoke out against his comments. In a statement to Bloomberg News, agency director Aaron Belkin slammed Trump for repeating “debunked canards” that medical care for transgender service members is unmanageable and that these service members cannot be held to the same standard as other troops.