Is the Rumor About Free Breast Implants for Milspouses True?

surgery implements on a tray
(David J. Murphy/DVIDS)

The military community seems to thrive on the rumor mill. And sometimes, the rumors have some truth to them -- but not always. Here’s an example, straight from the mailbag. A letter from a soldier includes:

I've heard rumors that I could get breast implants for my wife (she’s excited!). I guess you can get this done through the Army for free? If you have any info about how to go about getting this done, or if it's even true could you let me know?

Now, you may snicker at this email, but throughout the years this has been one of the most common questions asked. A couple of years ago, I met an Army surgeon and his wife. Thinking this was a great conversation starter, I told the couple a question we get is how military spouses can get their free breast implants. I wondered how this rumor had become so widespread? Why do so many people think that as soon as you get your ID card, you become eligible for free breast implants?

Turns out, it isn't a completely false rumor. However, it's not as cut and dry as the rumor mill makes it out to be, either.

The doctor told me that he must complete a certain number of procedures each year to fulfill licensing and board certification requirements. In addition, teaching hospitals need patients to "practice" on. The doctor has indeed performed cosmetic procedures on both active-duty personnel, and their spouses.

As was explained to me, there are waiting lists at several Army hospitals, and the waitlists are generally quite lengthy. Further, the process can be subjective. This particular doctor preferred working on patients who were disfigured or had experienced a medical condition over someone who already had a little "there" there but just wanted a Pamela Anderson-sized chest. In other words, reconstructive surgery took priority over purely cosmetic procedures.

As for the free claim, that was close to the truth - but not quite. The doctor told me that in the case of breast implants, while the patient didn't have to pay for the use of the hospital, they did have to pay for the implants. It's like buying the parts but getting the labor free.

I'd love to point to a resource here rather than just relaying a conversation I had with an Army reconstructive surgeon, but as far as I can see, there is no publicly available statement from the military outlining who is eligible for consideration and how to get wait-listed for cosmetic procedures, so it's no wonder there's a lot of speculation swirling around this topic. I have no idea if other branches handle this in the manner that was explained to me by the Army doctor, so I would simply encourage anyone who is interested to ask their physician about it.

One thing that I took away from my conversation with the surgeon was how important their work is within our community, particularly post-9/11. He's operated on many wounded warriors and even children in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been caught in the crossfire of war. Their work is valuable, and in no way should be considered simply a vanity profession.

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