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Medical "C-code" not a deployment disqualifier

Joint Base San Antonio - Randolph, Texas -- Contrary to common belief, a medical assignment limitation code, commonly known as the "C-code," does not disqualify an Airman from deployment and it does not identify an Airman for medical discharge.

According to Dr. (Lt. Col.) Keryl Green, Air Force Personnel Center Medical Retention Standards Branch Chief, a "C-code" applied to a member's profile for medical reasons is one of the various tools AFPC uses to put the right person in the right place at the right time.

"Our branch belongs to the assignments directorate. We don't actually make assignments, but we are integral to the success of assignment processes," she explained. "We're part of the medical evaluation process, so we work closely with the 76 Air Force medical treatment facilities, the physical evaluation board and AFPC enlisted and officer assignment experts."

Ultimately, the branch goal is to make sure Airmen are able to support the mission, she said.

"We do that by first evaluating referred cases and identifying if a member's medical condition is compatible with continued service. If it is, we will assign the most appropriate code - if any - to make sure those who can serve, do so in a location where appropriate medical facilities are available," said Green.

The process begins when a base medical practitioner refers a case for evaluation. Treatment facilities follow Air Force policy to decide whether to send referrals for medical evaluation board processing.

According to Green, there are three critical components of a referral.

Narrative: The first is the narrative, a subjective and objective medical summary submitted by the medical professionals responsible for an Airman's care. It provides medical background and treatment information and is foundational in referral decisions, she explained.

Commander letter: The second is the commander's letter, which describes, from a non-medical perspective, how the illness or injury has affected an Airman's ability to perform his or her duties or deploy, and how the illness or injury it may hinder the unit mission.

Profile: The third component is the member's AF form 469, which is commonly known as a "profile." This document gives a clear picture of the official physical restrictions that are related to the medical condition, said Green.

"To improve the referral process, we're implementing a procedure change whereby all medical evaluation board referrals will come through this office. AFPC providers will screen each case and determine whether or not a service member can remain on active duty with his or her condition," the doctor explained.

If a medical retirement or separation is warranted, the full medical evaluation board will be accomplished by the medical treatment facility and forwarded to the PEB.

"If we determine that a member's condition does not interfere with their continued military service, we will make an adjudication that the member can be returned to duty, and, when it is warranted, apply the appropriate C-code to the member's personnel file," said Dr. Green.

Airmen identified for an assignment limitation code will be coded as a C-1, C-2 or C-3, the colonel explained, but even the most restrictive code doesn't automatically disqualify you from deployment or permanent change of station, she said.

"For a condition expected to resolve in a short time, there may be no C-code. But a chronic condition, one that won't be resolved quickly, that prevents certain activities or that requires specialized medical care, will be identified with an assignment limitation code," she said. "A situation that warrants consideration for medical retirement or separation is referred to the physical evaluation board."

C-1 is the least restrictive code. C-1 coded Airmen can move to any continental United States assignment, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and Hawaii, without a waiver. A C-1 coded Airman may also move to most overseas bases without a waiver, as long as those bases have a fixed medical treatment facility, Green said. However, a waiver is required for a move to locations with limited care, such as Korea, Lajes Field, Azores; Eielson AFB, Alaska; Moron Air Base, Spain, and to deployed locations.

C-2 is more restrictive, but permanent change of station and deployment options remain numerous, Green said.

"C-2s can go anywhere in the continental United States, Hawaii and Elmendorf without a waiver, but assignments to Eielson AFB, Alaska, overseas assignments and deployments require a waiver approved by the gaining major command surgeon general," Dr. Green explained. Waiver approval for C-2 Airmen is relatively common, though."

C-3 is the most restrictive code, but members with a C-3 can still move to any CONUS base, Hawaii, or Elmendorf without a waiver, she said. To get a waiver to any other location or to deploy, a line general officer, wing commander or civilian equivalent must endorse the request, certifying that the member is essential for mission accomplishment and is the only member qualified and available for the job.

Just over 3 percent of the active duty Air Force population has an assignment limitation code, and less than a half of a percent of the 10,000 C-coded Airmen carry a C-3 designation, Green said.

"The application of a C-code is a tool we use to ensure members have access to the medical care they need, thus protecting both the member and the mission," said Green. "But first, we need to ensure they are able to continue to contribute to the Air Force mission."

Being "C-coded" doesn't mean an Airman will remain coded for the rest of his or her career, either. Annual follow-up assessments ensure that those who can be cleared will be. Between new referrals and existing files, the branch has oversight for more than 14,000 cases managed by Dr. Green and six other AFPC team members.

For more information about assignments and other personnel issues, visit the myPers website at https://myPers.af.mil.

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