The Army is pushing back against a recent USA Today story that said the service is lowering its standards to allow more recruits with histories of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder and other issues.
The Army recently updated its accessions policy to allow multiple organizations to review and approve recruiting waivers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the deputy chief of staff for personnel, wrote in a statement to reporters.
The service did not, as USA Today reported, lift any outright barriers to service, according to the statement.
“Recent reports that the Army has changed medical entrance standards for those with mental health issues are inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Army has made no such policy change and follows the accession standards prescribed by the Department of Defense.”
Past behavioral issues, to include cutting, bipolar disorder and depression, as well as drug and alcohol abuse generally prevent someone from enlisting or earning a commission. However, the Army will grant waivers in some cases.
Until recently, all waivers needed to be approved by Department of the Army headquarters, Seamands wrote. The only recent change to policy is that now U.S. Army Recruiting Command may make decisions on them, or a state’s adjutant general in the case of the National Guard.
“Unfortunately, this simple, administrative change has been substantially misinterpreted,” Seamands said.
In response to the insinuation that the Army is dropping standards to meet its end strength goals, Seamands defended the waiver process.
“It’s also important to note that the conditions themselves have been unfairly characterized,” he said. “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.”
Allowing these waivers gives the Army the chance to weigh a prospective soldier’s past on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re not prepared to close the door on such individuals who are otherwise medically, mentally and physically qualified for military service,” Seamands added. “We think this is the right thing for our Army and the selfless young men and women who wish to serve.”
Since early this year, the Army has worked overtime to increase its end strength by offering substantial enlistment and re-enlistment perks, though officials have insisted that no standards were lowered to get there.
The service will continue to offer those opportunities as it works to add another 17,000 in the next fiscal year, Seamands told Army Times in September.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.