The Pentagon estimates it will spend $50 million in the coming year to provide the impotence drug Viagra to U.S. troops, veterans and military retirees.
The cost, roughly the price of two Marine Corps Harrier jets or 45 Tomahawk cruise missiles, is among the unexpected military expenses that Pentagon officials recently told Congress have come up since they made their original 1999 budget requests.
“Viagra sort of burst on the scene,” Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said Friday.
Based on the number of soldiers, sailors, pilots, Marines and retirees asking for Viagra so far at military clinics and hospitals, Defense Department health officials estimated that if the drug were given to everyone who wanted it, the cost could top $100 million.
But the military is limiting Viagra to men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction by a doctor. Also, no one is allowed more than six pills a month, and according to a written Pentagon policy, “ ‘lost’, ‘stolen’ or ‘destroyed’ tablets will not be replaced.”
Viagra costs $8 to $10 a pill. At that rate, the Pentagon’s estimate of spending $50 million would pay for 5 million to 6 million pills.
The Pentagon provides health care to about 1.2 million troops and 5 million dependents and retirees.
Since Viagra was authorized for sale in the United States in March, the drug has been prescribed to more than 4 million American men, according to its maker, New York-based Pfizer Inc.
Safety risks to people with heart problems and the cost of pills have led some private insurers to deny or limit coverage.
In July, the Veterans Affairs Department announced it would not include Viagra among the drugs that must be available at all of its medical centers because of the expense.
VA officials can decide case by case whether to provide Viagra if a physician finds a compelling reason to use it.