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Army WON'T Lift Ban on Recruits with Some Mental Illnesses

by Countable | 11.15.17

UPDATED – November 15, 2017: The Army has rescinded its plan to issue waivers to individuals with a history of bipolar disorder, depression, self-mutilation, and drug and alcohol abuse.

The announcement comes days after USA Today first reported on the waivers, which led some on Capitol Hill to issue harsh rebukes against the Army — and administration.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) threatened to hold up Pentagon nominees until the decision was reversed. During a hearing on Tuesday, McCain complained that he’d only learned of the policy change from the newspaper.

“It's a problem that, frankly, that this committee is having with the administration,” McCain said. “We should've been told about this before it showed up in a USA Today article. The Army did not respond to a question of how many waivers, if any, have been issued since the policy was changed.”

After meeting with McCain late Tuesday night, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley announced on Wednesday that the Army had rescinded its September memo stating that people with certain mental health issues could seek waivers to join the service.

Milley admitted that the Army had done a “terrible” job explaining the policy change and credited USA Today for bringing the issue to his attention.

Milley told reporters that the waiver policy hadn’t changed, only who was allowed to approve them. A memo in 2009 made it so only the Department of the Army headquarters could approve the waivers. The recent memo allows the commanding general of Army Recruiting Command – Gen. Jeffrey Snow – to sign off on the waivers.

The general then read from a Pentagon policy on behavioral health issues that disqualify applicants, which includes major depression, bipolar disorder, self-mutilation, and attempted suicide.

“The decision to say no is given to Gen. [Jeffrey] Snow, but the answer’s still no,” Milley said. “Those are the categories. You ain’t coming into the U.S. military.”

Countable’s original story appears below.

What’s the story?

Individuals with a history of bipolar disorder, depression, self-mutilation, and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army.

The unannounced policy change occurred in late August, but was only revealed over the weekend by USA Today.

"The decision to open Army recruiting to those with mental health conditions comes as the service faces the challenging goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018," the newspaper wrote.

The Army placed a ban on mental illness waivers in 2009 amidst a surge of suicides among troops.

Why does it matter?

Lt. Col. Randy Taylor told USA Today that reinstating the waivers is possible because of increased access to the medical information of potential recruits.

"The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available," Taylor said in his statement. “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”

But some mental health professionals are voicing concerns about the Army’s decision. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010, told USA Today that individuals with mental health problems are more likely to see those issues resurface during service than those without that history.

"It is a red flag. The question is, how much of a red flag is it?"

Ritchie said that self-mutilation in a military setting could cause disorder among the unit. "A soldier slashing his or her own skin could result in blood on the floor, the assumption of a suicide attempt and the potential need for medical evacuation from a war zone or other austere place," the paper explained.

What do you think?

Is the Army correct in once again granting waivers to recruits with histories of mental health conditions? Or should the 2009 ban remain in place? Are there better ways to increase recruitment? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

— Josh Herman

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(88)
  • Luqman
    11/14/2017
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    Our service men/women in the military endure tremendous psychological and physical stress serving this country, many returning home with psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, and depression. It’s our governments responsibility to choose the most capable individuals who are physically and mentally able to serve as part of a unit and self. Let’s keep those with mental illnesses at home, give them the proper treatment to contribute at home, and let’s send our finest willing citizens to protect our nation.

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  • Matt
    11/14/2017
    ···

    We can let those with metal illnesses and give them access to weaponry, but we can’t allow transgendered people be of service. What kind of backward GOP nonsense is this?

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  • Christopher
    11/14/2017
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    This is a bad idea on so many levels it begs the question “Have the armed forces lost their minds?” They cannot adequately cope with returning veterans and their mental and physical wellbeing how will they support those with preexisting conditions? This is as dangerous if not worse than allowing people with mental illness to purchase semiautomatic weapons, Congress needs to be responsible and prevent this from becoming another tragedy they cannot manage.

    Like (20)
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  • Adelynn
    11/14/2017
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    I think we should keep our fitness standards to the highest degree unless their is a shortage of service members.

    Like (16)
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  • Michael.J.L
    11/14/2017
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    As an Army veteran I have to say this is one of the most idiotic things I ever heard. Military service (especially wartime service) can traumatize and cause PTSD in our troops who have no mental issues to begin with. Allowing people in already diagnosed with a mental problem as described could be dangerous to our troops. Only this administration would feel alright with this but think qualified LGBT personnel would not be fit.

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  • Catherine
    11/14/2017
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    This makes me very nervous since people with mental illness even well controlled with meds need stability. I️ fear that their coping skills may be challenged during stressful times while serving. What happens if they turn on their own troops or on their commander as an enemy. My son is in the military as was my father. They need to know they can trust their troops and need to know if an order is issued it will be followed. My son is a lieutenant in the army just returned from Afghanistan. From his stories, it sounds that deployment is trying for the sane. How much harder for those that are mentally challenged. I️ say find another way to recruit more soldiers. I worry enough that he won’t return to us as a result of enemy fire! Now I️ have to worry how sane his troops are!! And what if their meds are unavailable?? Have you ever witnessed a person with BiPolar off their meds in a manic state! I️ have and it can be very scary!

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  • Erin
    11/14/2017
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    But somehow, the healthcare costs of transgendered individuals is prohibitive.

    Like (9)
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  • Leslie
    11/14/2017
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    I️ feel this ill advised. The amount of stress our military personal faces can drive completed sane people into ptsd and psychologically irrational behavior; why, especially after the shooting in Texas, would we want to have someone join the military with a history of bipolar disorder????

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  • Leo
    11/14/2017
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    Modern warfare doesn’t require the same level of massive manpower of the past. We should concentrate on the quality not quantity of our soldiers.

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  • Ann
    11/14/2017
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    I am a retired nurse with over 20 years of experience. I think this is a terrible idea. You want to put people who are already plagued with mental issues in the most stressful environment imaginable and give them weapons capable of killing large numbers of people quickly, this is a recipe for disaster!

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  • Joanne
    11/14/2017
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    NO to this. You want recruits, make available to them better healthcare and health insurance. Quality education. Guaranteed jobs after serving. More RESPECT.

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  • Tim
    11/14/2017
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    This is clearly not in the best interest of our country.

    Like (4)
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  • Christine
    11/14/2017
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    Senators and Representative! This makes zero sense! Please look into this disastrous policy change.

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  • PatrioticRebel
    11/14/2017
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    So when we can’t take care of our mentally ill we send them straight to war? This is irresponsible and just shameful of our government. Instead of doing this why don’t we put more money into mental health treatment centers so we can help our troubled citizens instead of sending them to their deaths?

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  • Hillary
    11/14/2017
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    I find this a very concerning prospect. Medicines for bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illnesses can take three months or more to reach a medicinal dose. Once in a combat position there is no time to wait for meds to kick in. Stressful situations, irregular routines, or lack of regular rest can all affect the stability of a mentally ill person. These are people for whom a regular job is in many cases impossible to hold and you suggest they go to the army? This doesn’t seem to be well thought out.

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  • Gail
    11/14/2017
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    There is certainly no ban on mental illness in the Presidency. It seems our entire nation is also mentally unfit. Russia beat us. China is about to overtake us on the world stage. Maybe a bunch of spoiled, greedy billionaires, ready to rip us all off, shouldn't be in charge of America.

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  • Cindylen
    11/14/2017
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    Mostly I have questions. Why was there a ban placed on people with mental illness joining the military? What has changed since then? Why does the military now think that those with some forms of mental illness would be a good fit in the military? Why do we need to increase recruitment so much? With good statesmanship, especially from the White House, yes I mean t, could we lower the need? Is the US and the military prepared to help these and all soldiers, fully, during and after their time in the military?

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  • Anne marie
    11/16/2017
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    This is a dumb idea. People in the military are very stressed in a combat situation. It is just not smart to take an individual with mental problems and subject them to that. They become an increased danger to themselves and their comrades.

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  • CannabisSavedMe
    11/16/2017
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    Of course they won’t stop mentally ill from becoming bullet catchers in this endless illegitimate war! They need people to be their war fodder and murder the brown and poor people for them.

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  • M
    11/14/2017
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    The Trump administration seeks to ban transgender individuals who have served with honor and courage, claiming that their medical care creates a financial burden. Yet now the military considers accepting individuals with mental health and addiction issues which would not only create a financial burden but put military personnel in possible danger. Another step to weaken the morale and fitness of our military!

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