Report: Army to Allow People with Mental Health Conditions to Enlist

A U.S. Army Ranger unit goes through its paces during a demonstration of the elite force November 9, 2001 before a graduation ceremony at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Rangers have been used in the military actions in Afghanistan. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
Erik S. Lesser/Getty

The Army is allowing people with a history of mental health conditions to enlist, in order to meet recruiting goals, according to a report.

People with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army, according to USA Today.

The decision comes as the Army is struggling to meet a goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018.

To meet last year’s goal of recruiting 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use, and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses, USA Today reported.

An Army spokesman told the newspaper that expanding waivers for mental health is possible since the service now has more medical information about each potential recruit.

“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,” Army Lt. Col. Randy Taylor said. “These waivers are not considered lightly.”

However, the move does not come without risks. The Army issued a ban on waivers in 2009 amid an suicide epidemic in the military — a problem that still exists.

And it was revealed that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was allowed to enlist in the Army after he was discharged from the Coast Guard for psychological reasons. He later walked off his Army post in Afghanistan, sparking his five-year capture by the Taliban. The Obama administration ultimately released five high-level Taliban commanders in exchange for his return.

Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel and psychiatrist told USA Today that people with a history of mental health problems are more likely to have those issues resurface than those who do not.

“It is a red flag,” she told the newspaper. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”

According to Army guidance, potential recruits with histories of self-mutilation must provide appropriate documentation that includes include a detailed statement from the applicant, medical records, evidence from an employer if the injury was job-related, photos submitted by the recruiter and a psychiatric evaluation, and “clearance.”

“The burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered,” an Army memo said.

Last year, the Army accepted 1.9 percent “Category Four” recruits — those who score the lowest on military aptitude tests, or about 1,311 soldiers. The year before, the Army recruited 0.06 precent from Category Four.

The Pentagon mandates that each service accept no more than 4 percent from Category Four.

The Army is also offering more bonuses to recruits, paying $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016. It is generally more difficult to recruit when the economy is strong, the report noted.