Mattis’ transgender policy review is just ‘following orders’

Secretary James Mattis' look into the transgender policy is mandated by White House guidance, it's not freezing the ban.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is doing exactly what President Donald Trump asked of him in ordering a review of the transgender troop ban in the military, analysts say.

Tuesday evening Mattis announced the military will “develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law” with the transgender troop ban.

The Defense and Homeland Security departments will establish a panel to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s Aug. 25 directive.

“The panel will assemble and thoroughly analyze all pertinent data, quantifiable and non-quantifiable.  Further information on the panel will be forthcoming,” Mattis’ statement said.

Trump’s Aug. 25 guidance banned transgender troops in the military on a case-by-case basis, prohibits future transgender people from joining the military and disallows the government from paying for transition services for transgender troops.

But, the guidance also told DoD to further study how the guidance should be implemented, which is exactly what Mattis is doing.

“What this statement says to me is Mattis is following orders. Trump has asked Mattis to take another look at the policy and come back to him with his recommendation and that sounds exactly like what Mattis is doing,” said Amy Schafer, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.

Mattis was already conducting a six month review of transgender service members in the military when Trump unleashed a surprise chain of tweets July 26 announcing the ban.

Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, said  Mattis is following orders as well.

“The president asked the secretary to provide an implementation plan for how to prevent transgender people from serving in the military and the secretary has put in place a study process that appears to be designed to answer that question,” Belkin said.

What more Mattis will get out of the process remains to be seen, Belkin said.

“It’s never bad to have more information, but that having been said, the topic has already been studied to death and every study has come up with the same conclusion, which is that inclusive policy for LGBT troops promotes readiness. If Secretary Mattis undertakes a fair and comprehensive process, he will reach the same conclusion as every other researcher,” Belkin said.

Mattis has changed Trump’s mind before.

“We’ve seen a couple of instances in the past where I think Secretary Mattis has influenced Trump. Prior to his nomination, there was obviously the widely reported conversation about whether or not torture is effective, in which Mattis’ opinion was taken into account,” Schafer said.

Whatever Trump decides, however, Mattis will have to follow, Belkin said.

Interest groups and transgender troops have filed multiple court cases against the ban and some top lawmakers have urged Trump to reconsider his decision.

“Unfortunately, what we have now  is less of a freeze and more of a six month waiting period,” Schafer said.

That leaves transgender troops with more uncertainty as they continue to serve, Belkin said.

Two of the most recent and widely circulated studies on the cost and effect of transgender troops in the military come from the RAND Corporation and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The RAND study stated the cost of keeping transgender individuals and new recruits in the military is estimated to cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually in total.

The New England Journal of Medicine study, which was conducted by Belkin, stated the provision of transition-related care will cost the military $5.6 million annually, or 22 cents per [military] member per month.

Some congressional offices and think tanks have conducted their own studies on the issue.

The conservative Family Research Council estimated the total cost of new transgender recruits and keeping current transgender service members at $1 billion a year.

That paper factors in hypothetical situations, like a year of leave for experience in the new gender, but there is no evidence DoD planned to offer that benefit.

The Family Research Council was contacted for this article, but did not respond.

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