The Army has rescinded a memo that set off a firestorm of objections after USA Today reported on Saturday that the service would begin considering waivers for potential recruits with mental health and substance abuse issues.
The original story and subsequent statements by the Army painted a confusing picture of the service’s waiver process and the authorities in charge of giving second-looks to prospective soldiers.
On Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon that he had rescinded the memo.
The policy, however, still stands, Milley told reporters on Wednesday morning.
Back in August, Army leadership directed Army Recruiting Command to begin considering waivers for mental health issues, like bipolar disorder and major depression, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, as USA Today first reported.
What had actually changed, Army leaders have since explained, was not that the Army would now consider waivers for these things, because it does and always has. The August decision was an administrative shift, Milley said, that put consideration of these waivers back in the hands of USAREC.
Since 2009, the Army had required that USAREC route certain sensitive waiver requests — such as those for behavioral health or substance abuse issues — up to Army headquarters, to be reviewed by senior leadership.
In the meantime, USAREC continued to consider a host of other waiver requests, like those for imperfect vision or hearing. But, Milley said, he decided this year that USAREC should be trusted to consider all waivers on its own, and so a memo announcing the adjustment of enlisted waiver authority went out in August.
The memo that was leaked to USA Today, on the other hand, was simply guidance for doctors at Military Entrance Processing Stations who, for example, might be required to evaluate whether a potential recruit covered in scratches has ever self-mutilated.
Unfortunately, Milley said, the doctor who wrote it was not authorized to do so, as it appeared that he had released a policy directive.
“Signed by a lieutenant colonel medical doctor,” he said. “It was an unauthorized memo.”
The Sept. 7 memo, which USA Today posted in full, described the waivers as “previously restricted.” In fact, they were restricted for consideration by USAREC, but not by Army HQ, where they’d been going for eight years.
However, the memo did not make mention of the change of authority, and so it appeared to announce that the Army had turned on consideration of waivers for mental health issues in general, rather than just at the USAREC level.
“He had no authority to change that, because that, in fact, changes policy,” Milley said.
The doctor did, however, specify that the changes he described only meant that USAREC would now review the waivers, not that they could grant them.
Though USAREC is now the authority for those sensitive waivers, taking over the job headquarters had been doing since 2009, Milley said that Defense Department instruction is still very clear about which issues will not be granted waivers.
“You’re not allowed in the military if you have a history of bipolar disorder,” Milley said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t say, ‘I want a waiver,’ and the waiver gets looked at by somebody, ... but the answer is no.“
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.