Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Funny and Serious Sides of Taxpayer-Funded Breast Enlargement

It’s too bad the military doesn’t actually promote cosmetic surgery as a benefit. I’d love to see the recruiting posters.

I didn’t consider this ‘news’ article ‘blog-able’ after seeing it in today’s ‘Best of the Web Today’ feature (see “Top Notch Protection”) of the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal website. But then I get home tonight and lo and behold!-- What do I find in the MSNBC/MSN’s ‘Today’s Picks’ bin? None other than the same Reuter’s article, but unlike the humorous take James Taranto has on it (that also gives more depth to the article), it is delivered deadpan. Taranto (or one of his contributors today) tied today’s Reuter’s article to another one that ran a couple of years ago where an allegedly ‘naturally endowed’ female porn star and associates got some free publicity by protesting ‘free’ cosmetic surgery for the active-duty military.

I figure now it is only a matter of hours before Leno, Letterman, O’Brien or Insert-Late-Night-Show-Host-Name-Here gives the story a boost and it will be all over the USA and around the message boards after that. If that happens, expect yet another round of stories with outraged civic groups/citizens complaining about ‘taxpayer-funded boob jobs’.

This is a case of something that seems outrageous at first, but is really quite proper, logical, and serious. There was a pretty definitive article written a couple of years ago in the Cosmetic Surgery Times on the whys and wherefores that make the case for the military offering this ‘service’, and has the unfortunate title of “DOD defends military's plastic surgery benefit”. I would encourage everyone interested in the subject to read it.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to follow the link, here are a few key points with supporting extracts. They aren't particularly earth-shattering -- they are more along the lines of things the man on the street would never take the time to think about.

1. ‘Plastic Surgery’ came into being because of military need.
……. plastic surgery as a specialty emerged out of the horrors of World War I. Now, in an ironic twist, the very institution that spawned the specialty and was essentially responsible for creating the demand for more and better techniques finds itself defending its provision for cosmetic surgery benefits.
2. Cosmetic surgery is available, but not freely available. Nor is it ‘promoted’. In 20 years of military service, and spending considerable time in one of the best military hospitals undergoing multiple reconstructive procedures, and coming in contact with many other patients, I still had no idea that cosmetic surgery was even available to the military until today.
It turns out that although it's true that active duty personnel may seek cosmetic surgery — which, along with all other military health benefits, is free — the surgeon must first get approval from the prospective patient's commanding officer, which reportedly is neither easy to obtain nor frequently granted. Furthermore, the surgery isn't free to dependents or to retired military personnel.

….The DOD allows surgeons to do a small number of cosmetic surgeries per year so that they can maintain their skills and be competitive with their peers when their term of service is complete. Dr. Buss estimates that less than 1 percent of surgeries performed annually in military hospitals are solely elective cosmetic procedures, and of those, Lappert points out, the majority are for retirees or dependents.
3. The value to the government is in how it benefits the medical staff. The patient’s benefit is an independent side-effect as far as the government is concerned.
…..explains that the cosmetic surgery "perk" is actually for the surgeons — not the patients — and that prohibiting plastic surgeons from exercising the full range of their skills would make it difficult, if not impossible, to retain these surgeons in the military….
……."We also use our plastic surgeons to take care of people who have breast cancer, dog bites, cleft lip and so many other things. If we want to keep a cadre of well-trained plastic surgeons wearing uniforms and serving their country, we need to allow them to practice the full scope of care that comes within plastic surgery."
….."This not only teaches skills but is a necessary part of training well-rounded surgeons who are every bit as good as their civilian counterparts in all aspects of their respective surgical specialty," he adds
4. There is a proven benefit to the quality of medical care by the DoD providing limited access to cosmetic surgery.
Several years ago, the military put a stop to solely elective cosmetic surgery, and negative repercussions followed.
"There was a two-year period from around 1990 to 1992 that followed another (bout) of publicity when cosmetic surgery was prohibited in the military," Dr. Buss says. "The elimination of cosmetic surgery resulted in several problems. It hurt our ability to train residents, and our plastic surgery residency programs were suffering. There were negative ratings for plastic surgery and ear-nose-throat (ENT) residency programs because the trainees were not learning how to do cosmetic surgery, and there were problems with trained surgeons being able to take their board certification exams because they didn't have enough cases. It's difficult to retain these people in the military, if you take away a large part of their practice."
I for one, was very glad that my surgeons were top notch when I needed them, and am thankful they got as much practice as possible before I ever met them. I don't give one whit if they got some of that practice doing cosmetic jobs. I mean, the alternative would require me hoping a lot of other people were hurt and disfigured ahead of me wouldn't it?

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