The Army has started giving waivers for mental-health conditions to attract more recruits

US Army firefight in Kunar, afghanistan
US soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in March 2011. Pfc. Cameron Boyd
  • The Army has a high recruiting goal for the current fiscal year, as it seeks to increase its ranks amid a high operational tempo.
  • The service has expanded the pool of candidates from which it will draw soldiers, now offering waivers for certain mental-health conditions as well as drug use.

In order to broaden the pool of applicants from which it can accept recruits, the Army has lifted a ban that prevented it from giving waivers to those with a history of some mental-health conditions, according to a new report from USA Today.

The Army policy — implemented in August — allows people with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse to request waivers to join the force, lifting a ban on such waivers put in place in 2009.

The Army has the goal of recruiting 80,000 soldiers during fiscal year 2018, which runs from October to September next year, up from 69,000 during the previous fiscal year.

The original ban came amid a surge in the number of suicides among soldiers, but it has been rescinded in part because the Army can now get its hands on more medical information about each candidate, an Army spokesman told USA Today.

More readily available medical records “allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories,” Lt. Col. Randy Taylor said.

Us army students
Chief Warrant 4 Malachi Simmons, an academic facilitator and instructor at the Warrant Officer Career College, leads a classroom discussion on military operations. US Army Photo

The Army has dealt with a high operational tempo for sometime. In addition to ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it now faces missions in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

“I believe, and have believed for quite some time, and I have testified to it, that the Army needs to get bigger,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, said in October. “We need to grow in order to meet the demands that the nation expects at the readiness levels it expects.”

The Army did not say how many waivers had been issued under the new policy, but it did appear to meet its recruiting goal for the last fiscal year by relaxing its standards.

The force has significantly increased the amount of bonuses it pays out to those who join — going from $US8.2 million in total in 2014 to $US284 million in 2016 and reaching $US424 million in fiscal year 2017. It also offered nearly three times as many waivers for marijuana use in 2017 as it did in 2016.

Us army, plane, soldiers
82nd Airborne Division soldiers in a C-17 Globemaster during a Joint Operations Access Exercise at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. U.S. Army / U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Asha Harris

It has also looked to draw more recruits from the pool of less-qualified applicants.

The Army took 1.9% of its nearly 69,000 recruits from Category Four, which refers to prospects who scored in the lower one-third of standard military exams. That was up from 0.6% Category Four recruits in 2016, according to USA Today.

The Defence Department limits each service branch to a maximum of 4% of each recruiting class drawn from Category Four.

Army documents seen by USA Today state that potential recruits seeking to join the force must offer “appropriate documentation” in order to receive a waiver.

“For all waivers,” one memo states, “the burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered.”

Taylor, the Army spokesman, said there had been cases where highly qualified applicants had been passed over because of incidents in their childhoods and that new information allowed the Army to evaluate the “whole person” when considering a waiver.

Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist and retired Army colonel in 2010 who is an expert on military waivers, told USA Today that it’s possible in some instances waivers would be appropriate but cautioned that mental-health issues are more likely to resurface in those with a history of them.

Read the full USA Today report here >>