An Army recruit who had an autism diagnosis and anxiety medication prescription but was still sent to basic training, possibly against Army policy, has been returned home, while his recruiter has been removed from duty pending the final outcome of an investigation.
U.S. Army Recruiting Command confirmed that officials are conducting an investigation into whether the recruiter encouraged the recruit to conceal his autism diagnosis, which is considered high functioning, prior to arriving at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on Aug. 20.
The day after the original Army Times story was published, a letter was sent from Fort Jackson’s reception battalion to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-ID, stating that the 19-year-old recruit, Garrison Horsley, was receiving an administrative separation.
Horsley’s father confirmed that his son has been returned to their hometown in Idaho, but does not intend to conduct any further interviews.
Army applicants with autism spectrum disorders are automatically disqualified, per Defense Department accession policy, though sometimes medical enlistment waivers are granted after a visit to a DoD behavioral health consultant, according to Lisa Ferguson, the chief spokeswoman for the service’s recruiting command.
“All waivers are considered on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, autism isn’t something normally waived if the diagnosis was appropriately given,” Ferguson previously told Army Times.
Horsley omitted his autism diagnosis and anxiety medication prescription during the enlistment process. But in a phone call with Army Times, he said that this is what his recruiter instructed him to do. The recruiter advised him that the more boxes you check, the more reasons you’re giving the Army to reject you, Horsley said.
Horsley also provided screenshots of text messages that appear to show him warning his recruiter that he was previously turned away from Navy recruiters because of his autism diagnosis.
“Recruiters are trained to prevent the disclosure of personally identifiable information," Kelli Bland, USAREC public affairs director, said. "This means having conversations about an applicant’s personal history over the phone or in person rather than over unsecure channels, such as texting and social media.”
The recruiter who is the subject of the investigation, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Gaunya, has not responded to Army Times’ repeated requests for comment. The unit he worked for while on recruiting duty, the Salt Lake City Recruiting Battalion, declined to comment.
The letter to the congressman notes that Horsley first arrived at Fort Jackson on Aug. 20, and was assigned to Alpha Company of the 120th Adjutant General Battalion before being given a psychological evaluation on Aug. 27. He was then given a status of “Do Not Ship” to basic combat training and received two more examinations in the following days, before being recommended a medical discharge.
“Trainee Horsley received an ‘uncharacterized’ characterization of service, as he was in entry-level status when separated,” the letter reads.
An Aug. 30 memo signed by Horsley’s primary care physician and obtained by Army Times stated that the young man was being treated for a mild episode of recurrent depressive disorder, in addition to the autism diagnosis, as part of his current medical issues before shipping to basic training.
Horsley said in his phone interview that he was also supposed to be taking a prescription for daily 20mg doses of Citalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI.
Those medications may be taken for a range of issues, including anxiety, migraine prevention and even pelvic pain. Enlistment waivers can be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on the condition being treated, Ferguson said.
However, DoD policy states that depressive disorder symptoms and treatment within the last 36 months are disqualifying.
Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.