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Cosmetic surgery in the military has considerations, limitations

By Lt. Col. Christie Smetana, commander | 628th Medical Group | Sept. 5, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

In 2016, Americans spent more than $16 billon on cosmetic surgery.  Military personnel are no exception.  However, unlike our civilian counterparts, limitations exist for military personnel seeking cosmetic surgery. 

Cosmetic surgery is considered a type of elective surgery—one that does not treat a medical condition or improve function or overall health.  It instead addresses an aspect of personal appearance which the person finds undesirable.  Examples of cosmetic surgeries include breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty (nose-job) and abdominoplasty (tummy tuck).

As a rule, cosmetic surgeries are not covered by Tricare.  Active duty members must pursue cosmetic surgery at their own expense, to include the initial consultation with the plastic surgeon, all surgical costs and post-operative appointments.  This also includes laboratory work completed at a civilian facility and pre-operative studies or tests required by the surgeon.  Likewise, treatment of any surgical complications are at personal expense.  Personal leave, not convalescent leave, must also be taken for all appointments, surgery and recovery.  Convalescent leave will not be granted by the Medical Group. 

Cosmetic surgery must also be approved by your squadron commander.  Readiness is our mission.  Any time spent in surgery or convalescing from surgery is time you are not available to execute the mission.  As such, your squadron commander must approve the timing of your surgery, taking into consideration your post-operative personal leave and expected length of duty/mobility restrictions.   This is essential to preserve unit readiness.

In order for your squadron commander to make an informed decision, you must first seek approval from the Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) commander.  The MTF commander will provide your squadron commander with an expected recovery time for your specific surgery.  This includes the time you will need to take as personal leave for recovery, as well as the additional length of time during which you will have duty/mobility restrictions.     

When contemplating cosmetic surgery, there are some special considerations to keep in mind.  If you obtain cosmetic surgery without your squadron commander’s approval, you can be subject to disciplinary action.  Additionally, any complications that may occur from any procedure without proper approval will result in 100 percent out of pocket costs as Tricare will not cover this treatment.  If you are within six months of an established separation or retirement date, you must also obtain approval from the Air Force Personnel Center, Medical Standards Branch, prior to proceeding with any elective surgery, including cosmetic surgery.  If you suffer long-term complications directly due to your cosmetic surgery that prevent you from performing the required duties of your AFSC, you may forfeit eligibility for disability benefits. 

If you are enrolled to one of the JB Charleston clinics and are considering elective surgery, contact your primary care team by leaving a telephone message or using secure messaging.  The team will assist you in the process and connect you with the Health Benefits Coordinators, who can provide you additional information.