There are hundreds of medical and behavioral issues that can keep young Americans from being able to join the Army. Some, like criminal records and heart defects are still a hard no, but the service’s top civilian has been looking at some more treatable issues and whether they should still disqualify a potential recruit.

The Army has moved a lot of pieces around within its accessions standards over the past year, first moving waiver authority down to Army Recruiting Command in the fall, before shifting it back up to headquarters over the summer and issuing specific guidance for allowing past self-harm behavior, along with capping the number of lower-quality recruits allowed per year at 2 percent.

Leadership is continuing to review standards, Army Secretary Mark Esper told Army Times in a Sept. 19 interview.

Spc. David Dunbar listens for audio tones during a hearing test. The Army secretary is open to admitting recruits with less-than-perfect hearing if they are otherwise stellar candidates. (Army)
Spc. David Dunbar listens for audio tones during a hearing test. The Army secretary is open to admitting recruits with less-than-perfect hearing if they are otherwise stellar candidates. (Army)

“You know, drug use or bad hearing, flat feet, eczema. I mean, all these things that tend to be disqualifiers,” Esper said. “I think we need to take a look at all those standards and make sure it’s still relevant for this day and age.”

Ask Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey what he thinks about waivers, and he’ll tell you right away that he came in with one for his hearing.

“I’ve asked the question, again, in this day and age, are there things that are correctable or that maybe we’ve realized that the consequences of having it are not a readiness disqualifier?" Esper said. “What I like to use, that’s so easy, is eyesight. I mean, eyesight used to be a disqualifier.”

But corrective surgery has become more and more popular and affordable.

“Then you’re in,” he said. “Are there other things like that that we need to take a look at?”

Or if you’re looking at an applicant with an advanced degree, with a list of scholarly accomplishments, but your hearing isn’t perfect, it’s worth reconsidering.

“And I may not put you on the battlefield or where you need to have great [hearing] — but, yeah, we’ve got to be flexible enough to make those calls,” he said.

One facet of modern American life is still off the table, though, as far as Esper is concerned. A 2017 survey found that 38 percent of American high school students report using marijuana, and the drug is currently legal for recreational use for adults in eight states.

Former Army Recruiting Command chief Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow told the Associated Press in 2017 that he had an open mind about waivers for marijuana, but habitual use is still a no-go as far as the Army Department is concerned.

“My view is if you’re a user, no,” Esper said. “If it’s something you tried at a party in eighth grade and it wasn’t for you, then it’s fine. But maybe I’m narrowing it too much, but, I’m sorry, if you come in to me personally, if you come into a recruiting station and you say, ‘I’m from X state where it’s legal, and I’ve been smoking marijuana for three years and I really like it.’ No, probably not.”