ALL THAT YOU CAN BE; CHEST OUT, STOMACH IN Series: 3/5

By Schaler, Karen | The New Yorker, July 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

ALL THAT YOU CAN BE; CHEST OUT, STOMACH IN Series: 3/5


Schaler, Karen, The New Yorker


There has been a great deal of speculation recently that the government might reinstate the draft at some point, in order to replenish the nation's armed forces. Military and government officials have, for the most part, dismissed such talk. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview the other day, "We're perfectly capable of increasing the incentives and the inducements to attract people into the armed services." For years, the military has offered its recruits free tuition, specialized training, and a host of other benefits to compensate for the tremendous sacrifices they are called upon to make. Lately, many of them have been taking advantage of another perk: free cosmetic surgery.

"Anyone wearing a uniform is eligible," Dr. Bob Lyons, the chief of plastic surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, said recently, in his office in San Antonio. It is true: personnel in all four branches of the military and members of their immediate families can get face-lifts, nose jobs, breast enlargements, liposuction, or any other kind of elective cosmetic alteration, at taxpayer expense. (For breast enlargements, patients must supply their own implants.) There is no limit on the number of cosmetic surgeries one soldier can have, although, Lyons said, "we don't do extreme makeovers in the military." The commanding officer has to approve the time off for any soldier who is having surgery. For most procedures, there's at least a ten-day recovery period, and while soldiers are recuperating they're on paid medical leave rather than vacation.

A Defense Department spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the plastic-surgery benefit. According to the Army, between 2000 and 2003 its doctors performed four hundred and ninety-six breast enlargements and a thousand three hundred and sixty-one liposuction surgeries on soldiers and their dependents. In the first three months of 2004, it performed sixty breast enhancements and two hundred and thirty-one liposuctions.

Mario Moncada, an Army private who was recently treated for losing the vision in one eye in Iraq, said that he knows several female soldiers who have received free breast enlargements: "We're out there risking our lives. We deserve benefits like that."

Janis Garcia, a former lieutenant commander and jag attorney in the Navy, who is married to a retired Navy fighter pilot, says she grew up hating the way she looked. …

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