Army Lifts Ban For Some Mental Health Conditions, Addiction

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/14/17

By expanding the pool of applicants through waivers, the Army hopes to meet its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018.

young male army soldier

The U.S. Army has expanded its pool of applicants—by allowing people with a history of self-injury, bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol misuse to seek waivers.

The decision to remove the ban on people with a history of certain mental health issues comes in an effort to increase the number of applicants and meet recruitment quotas, according to USA Today.

“With the additional data available, Army officials can now consider applicants as a whole person, allowing a series of Army leaders and medical professionals to review the case fully to assess the applicant’s physical limitations or medical conditions and their possible impact upon the applicant's ability to complete training and finish an Army career,” said Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Randy Taylor.

Taylor added that the Army’s decision was based on “the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” which allows “Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”

Other mental health issues that can be cause for disqualification include ADHD, eating disorders after the age of 12, sleepwalking after the age of 13, certain speech impediments, anxiety disorders, history of suicidal ideation, and psychoses.

By expanding the pool of applicants through waivers, the Army hopes to meet its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018. And while lifting the ban, and recognizing that people with certain pre-existing mental health conditions may be fit to serve, is a big step towards dismantling shame and stigma around mental health issues, it’s also potentially concerning because veterans have a higher likelihood to suffer from mental health issues after being deployed.

Nearly one-third of people returning from service in Iraq or Afghanistan have a diagnosable mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, according to the Rand Corporation. Around 20 vets die by suicide each day. And veterans also experience addiction and substance misuse in high numbers, especially if they are also diagnosed with PTSD.

While the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 1 in 15 veterans struggle with substance misuse, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that 1 in 3 veterans seeking treatment for substance use disorder also have PTSD. 

The question that will need to be addressed is whether someone with a pre-existing mental health condition might be more at-risk for these consequences.

In order to receive a waiver under the new Army policy—which was not formally announced, but implemented in August—applicants must provide “appropriate documentation” that includes a statement from the applicant themselves, along with their medical records, photos, a psychiatric evaluation, and other forms depending on the nature of the mental health issue.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
britni headshot.png

Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.