Mailbag: Free Breast Implants for Milspouses?

Pacific Partnership 2010

A soldier writes:

I’ve heard rumors that i could get breast implants for my wife, (shes 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 its even true could you let me know. we would appreciate it. please and thanks.

Now, you may snicker at this email, but throughout the years this has been one of the most common questions we’ve been 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 that (at the time) the question we get most 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 a simplistic 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 wait lists 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. The video below is well worth watching:

Operation Mend: Reconstructing Lives Through Reconstructive Surgery from Mike Allen on Vimeo.

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • SemperSteen

    It’s great that soldiers and spouses who *need* reconstructive surgery have access to that. However, I am not on board with the idea that some 20-year-old military wife can get breast implants on the taxpayers’ dime. Even if it’s for licensing requirements, that just doesn’t sit well with me. I can’t imagine being someone living in the civilian world and meeting someone who says, “The army paid for my (wife’s) breast implants.” I mean, really?

  • JennCon

    I think this is a great Idea!! After having three kids it and putting up with 5 deployments, I think it would be nice to get something done for myself. As the article stated it isnt free but discounted! Nothing wrong with that!!

    • Petra

      Sounds more like “I want” than “I deserve”… I deserve to be treated with respect, but I don’t deserve free elective surgery, especially when there are so many out there who NEED surgery…

  • Amy

    I can’t believe no one has really commented on this !

    I’m sorry JennCon, but I have to disagree. In my opinion yes, deployments suck — but we chose to be military spouses and have children. The military didn’t make us. They give us plenty of other support without giving us free boobs.

    And don’t think I haven’t thought, even after one kid, that this would be a nice, um, pick-me-up (ahem). But there’s zero reason any tax dollars should be paying for it — not even a “discount.” ALL the practice surgeries can go towards reconstruction. There are plenty of people out there who need it.

  • jessica

    ok, so i havent comment here before. but HAD to when i seen the tax payer comments. that tax payers are paying them anyways. ALL soldiers are payed with tax dollars, and from my understanding these are military doctors. not civillian. so before we jump on the band wagon of my taxes paying for vanity, im paying the doctor no matter what. and if after EVERYTHING us military wives go through can get something back. go for it!!

    • Renee L. Ten Eyck

      let’s back up a bit, as there are many, many civilian physicians employed by the military. But that is really not the issue here. The reality is that the military is not giving away free breast implants for the sake of making military spouses look like Pamela Anderson or Dolly Parton. These procedures have medical purposes, and those chosen for the procedures have medical needs that are the focus of the procedure. For example, someone who has had breast cancer and had her breasts removed may qualify for reconstructive surgery-implants. IE: cancer survivors have had mastectomies at Ft Brag, the Navy Hosp in Bethesda, and the former Ft Dix, NJ, as well as WRAMC. It is no different than any other insurance paying for reconstructive surgeries. Some recipients may, however, have the added bonus of improved breast appearance.

  • Renee L. Ten Eyck

    I hope that my experience (with jaw surgery) can maybe eliminate some confusion. I had jaw surgery while in the Army in 1990, after having worn braces for nearly 7 years. This was not considered a cosmetic procedure, though I did have cosmetic benefits in the end. The intent was to make my jaws come together better so I could eat and chew better. In addition, I’d had a deviated septum for most of my life which surgery had not corrected, but the work on my top jaw actually improved that, allowing me to breath thru my nose for the first time since I was a child. So even though there were cosmetic benefits, I was chosen for the procedure for medical reasons, which have made a difference ever since.

    • david

      hey renee!
      I have some questions about jaw surgery, please email me at

      I want to ask you some really important questions, please and thank you for your time.

      • david

        im joining the air force and i would really like get some info into getting jaw surgery after basic training. thanks

    • Carrie

      As a child, my husband was one of those “practice” patients at an Army hospital for maxillofacial jaw surgery. As with you, it was done for medical purposes but had the added benefit of some cosmetic effects. It was a farily new surgery in those days so he was basically the Army’s live guinea pig…with Civilian Docs there teaching the procedure.

      The surgery allowed him to swallow, chew and breath in a way most of take for granted…and eventually join the Air Force. Without that surgery in his childhood, he woudl have lived a very different, and difficult life.

      I support surgery for those reasons but not for PURE vanity. I have had 3 kids, deal with the Mom tummy and “bottle” breasts and in no way would I even think to ask any of the militaries to take on a vanity surgery for me. If I want it, I am a very capabile person and can get a job, save money and pay for it myself. Save those surgeries for those who needs it to survive!

  • Renee L. Ten Eyck

    Most mastectomy patients are medically appropriate for reconstruction, many at the same time that the breast is removed. The best candidates, however, are women whose cancer, as far as can be determined, seems to have been eliminated by mastectomy.

  • Renee L. Ten Eyck

    official stance from the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office:

    Recruiters must know the facts and present the truth when faced with questions regarding the Army’s medical Benefits in relation to cosmetic surgery.

    According to the Army Surgeon General’s office, “If a person joins the military in hopes of receiving cosmetic surgery, they will almost certainly be disappointed because of the very limited number of cases performed. Military medicine is not in the makeover business.” Cosmetic surgery procedures are NOT covered benefits under TriCare. The Army does have plastic surgeons. Because the skills used in performing the cosmetic surgery procedures are often the same skills required in obtaining optimal results in reconstructive surgery, these surgeons have a valid need to perform cosmetic surgery cases to maintain their specialty surgical skills. They also need to meet board certification, recertification, and graduate medical education program requirements for specialties requiring training in cosmetic surgery. However, the first priority for Army plastic surgeons is taking care of injured Soldiers. Plastic surgery is an integral part of training for battlefield medicine.

    • Andi

      Interesting that this statement was targeted at recruiters. They must get this question a lot, too.

  • Renee L. Ten Eyck

    continued from from the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office:

    Therefore, Army surgeons focus their priorities on reconstructive plastic surgery–such as, repairing cleft palates and reconstructive surgery for patients who have had mastectomies. Surgeons perform a limited amount of cosmetic surgeries on a time and space available basis. Patients pay some of the costs for these surgeries (ie; mastectomy patients pay for their implants) and insurance is collected when possible.

    Family members who receive cosmetic surgery pay fees for the procedure and any implants. All patients, including Active Duty soldiers, undergoing cosmetic surgery procedures must pay the surgical fee, plus any applicable institutional and anesthesia fee, for the procedures in accordance with the fee schedule published annually by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Comptroller.

  • army_wife

    I’d rather have custom bladeless LASIK than breast implants. Glasses are expensive!

    But that’s neither here nor there because the Army would never pay for LASIK. I believe Soldiers can get it done on a very limited (wait-list) basis, though.

    • Andi

      Amen, army_wife. I just had to replace two pairs of glasses and sheesh, were they expensive!

    • SailorMade

      They don’t pay for glasses either.

      • cvin5

        Nope, they sure don’t! Also, nothing towards glasses either, no percentage. So you get a free exam to prove you can’t see, but have to shell out way too much to actually be able to see. Would appreciate some help on that end. :(

    • Petra

      Same here, which sometimes gets me a tad miffed at the whole bariatric surgery. Had two aquaintances who went for it, didn’t pay a dime and were all covered, but when I asked about lasik for my eyes, I got nearly laughed at…

      I didn’t even want it for free, we were very willing to co-pay, but they wouldn’t even do THAT, so now we save up to have it done in the civilan world…And I’m not saying I “deserve” it, just would be nice to see stuff like precede over bigger boobs…

  • My husband has the type of job where he has to keep up with professional “currencies,” so I can understand why they might opt to provide this service during a time where their services aren’t needed as much for combat-related injuries. I personally wouldn’t opt to have surgery unless it was necessary to sustain life, but I do see from a professional standpoint why the surgeons agree to do this.

  • Marine

    What if you want a breast reduction and not implants?

    • Andi

      Marine – Check with your doctor, but the surgeon I talked to said they’ve done breast reductions because it’s a health issue due to the fact that they can cause back problems.

    • Carrie

      Marine…we had the 15 yr old daughter of a friend who received breast reduction surgery. She was VERY well endowed at a young age and by the time she hit 15 it was causing her some MAJOR headaches, back pain and walking issues. Check with the Doc but that is one that I think is more commonly done due to medical necessity than an implant.

  • Jim

    Operation Mend… what a powerful video. Sets the tone and attitude for military medical care, doesn’t it. Simply makes all the fuss about silly cosmetic procedures pale by comparison.

  • just me

    Gee how abot THIS idea, the military “practice” on disfigured civilians or 3rd world cleft pallet kids? Talk about puttin gour tax dollar to WORK!

    • Cmoney

      sorry about the 3rd world cleft pallet kids and all this other 3rd world work you wanna do but just to let you know im in a 3rd world country and they dont care about themselves or our own so why should we worry about 3rd world countries when we really need to be worried about ourselves

  • MUD

    anyone in the military no matter what branch has gotten benefits from “practice”…..if i can get a deal on implants for my wife to make her happy and to say thanks for putting up with all the $#i+ between deployment and anything else the military throws our way i feel there is nothing wrong with buying the parts and getting labor for free

  • mrs perry

    I agree with mud….at my last job a physician we knew performed cosmetic surgery on my mom, as well as my husband’s jaw. It came from my insurance that I paid for, no taxes covered and because he was a dependant and beneficiary of my employer provided benefits, now he’s in the army, and if I was offered a tummy tuck etc for discount I’m taking it…..say what you want….but 90% of us use, and take discounts.

  • Nomadgirl70

    My daughter had a teacher who got implants on post at the hospital, but she had to pay for the actual implant, only the surgical part was free.
    Now I was able to have a breast reduction paid through Tricare, I didn’t pay a penny. But, I had justifiable reasons, not just cosmetic.

  • Tania

    if i could have it i would. my husband is in the army and after having 3 children i lost my breast. so now i have lost all respect for my body. i cant even look at myself i feel like a boy or a child. my husband has lost out as i cant even sleep with him. we havent slept with each other in over a year and i think this is messing up my home life. but there is no help out there and if i could get it i would. i have tryed to see if i can pay for it myself but just dont have the money. and as for tax payer money. if we can pay for people that dont want to get out of bed and go to work, we can use tax money to help thos who help you by risking there lifes, and wifes and kids that could end up with no husband and no dad. and when we become a single mum with no where to live who is there then. my husband fight but i fight with him.

  • Breast Augmentation on the cost of the tax payer is ridiculous. There are much more important surgeries that people really need.