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Army Says It Won't Give Waivers to People With Certain Mental Illnesses

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Facing multiple conflicting statements from its own officials over whether or not people with mental illnesses can join the Army, the Army has spent a week trying to clarify who can join.

On Sunday, USA Today reported that the Army would grant those with a history of depression, self-harm, bipolar disorder and substance abuse waivers to join the army. The policy was reportedly enacted in August, but was not announced.

According to USA Today, the ban was lifted partly in response to recruiting goals for 2018, which hope to add over 80,000 new soldiers by the end of September 2018.

A ban on waivers for mental health issues started in 2009 after the Army reported its highest amount of suicides in almost three decades. During this time period, roughly 20 out of every 100,000 soldiers died by suicide. Whereas the suicide rate for civilians was 19 for every 100,000 people.

Part of the reason the Army could expand its waiver program was due to an increase in the amount of medical information obtained from each recruit, Lt. Col. Randy Taylor said in a statement to USA Today.

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

When The Mighty reached out to the Army, Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, deputy chief of staff, contradicted what Taylor told USA Today and what a memo from the Army, which clearly states a lift in the ban, said.

“Recent reports that the Army has changed medical entrance standards for those with mental health issues are inaccurate,” Seamands said in the statement to The Mighty. “The Army has made no such policy change and follows the accession standards prescribed by the Department of Defense.”

According to Seamands, the new policy was an administrative change that delegated who could grant waivers to other departments away from the Department of Army Headquarters.

However, on Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the Army had rescinded the September memo that stated people with a history of some mental health conditions and substance abuse would be able to obtain waivers to join.

Although the memo about the waivers was rescinded, the Army maintained its position that waivers had not changed, but the delegation of them had been moved to a lower level for approval.

“There wasn’t a change in policy,” Milley said in a press conference. “There cannot be a change in policy by someone who doesn’t have the authority to change policy. I know it sounds circular.”

So what is the Army’s stance on allowing people with mental health histories to join the service?

According to the memo obtained by USA Today and the Army’s insistence that waivers have not changed, people with a history of self-harm, bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse would fall under the “never waiver/suspended” status. This means anyone with those diagnoses would not be able to join.

Waivers for other mental health incidents can still be obtained.

“For example, a child who received behavioral counseling at age 10 would be forever banned from military service were it not for the ability to make a waiver request,” Seamands said in a statement. “We’re not prepared to close the door on such individuals who are otherwise medically, mentally and physically qualified for military service.

The Mighty reached out to the Army for its full policy on allowing those with mental illnesses to join and has yet to hear back.

Thinkstock image via Niyazz.

Originally published: November 17, 2017
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