The US Army will now allow waivers for those wishing to enlist for a wider variety of mental issues. The new change to waiver policy will allow those with history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression, and those with a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse to join.
The US Army has long had fairly strict standards for those wishing to enlist. These standards became all the more strict after the military began to draw down troop strength during the Obama presidency, as soldiers were shed to reduce payroll costs to the Army and other US Military branches.
Waivers have long been available for various infractions considered “minor,” in order for the military to attract and accept talented individuals with skills that the Army was seeking. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought in earnest during the Bush presidency, and as the need to recruit a larger number of soldiers grew, waivers became commonplace for a wide variety of otherwise disqualifying factors.
Mental health waivers for certain mental health problems were disallowed in 2009 due to the rise of suicide rates among troops. However, according to Lieutenant Colonel Randy Taylor, the increased availability of medical data concerning new enlistees has made such a waiver useful again. Now that they can more accurately get a feel for the medical history of a recruit.
Colonel Elspeth Richie, an Army psychiatrist and expert on waivers for military service, disagrees, however. According to Colonel Richie, people with an issue of mental health problems are more prone to having those issues resurface during service, when they could be a disruption to the unit the soldier is serving with.
Those suffering from bipolar disorder often are able to maintain a stable mindset with the help of medication. However, many authoritative psychological and psychiatric texts, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V), published by the American Psychiatric Association, state that behavior such as self-mutilation can be the sign of a larger underlying mental health issue.
There have been issues with waivers in the past, which are sometimes used to allow soldiers with otherwise poor qualifications to enlist in the Army. In 2006 a group of soldiers, including one with a waiver for minor criminal activity and poor educational background, raped an Iraqi girl and killed her family. Groups have found that an increase in moral waivers has implications concerning the killing of noncombatants during combat.
The waiver system is not a simple one, and the onus is on the applicant to show that they are deserving of the waiver. The waiver system is meant to allow individuals who may have had issues earlier in life enlist. These applicants are meant to be those with other merit, such as high Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), or specialized skills that are in demand.
However, the military is undergoing a recruitment drive, aiming to recruit 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018. In the last fiscal year, they managed to recruit 69,000 new soldiers, which was done via a variety of incentives.
In hopes of meeting the new demands for troop strength, recruiters and the Army have upped the incentive for enlistment. For example, they are now offering up to a $40,000 enlistment bonus, depending upon qualifications and the Military Occupational Specialty that a recruit chooses. In fiscal year 2014, the Army spent $8.2 million on enlistment bonuses. In fiscal year 2016, that number had jumped to $284 million, and in 2017 it has grown further to $424 million in enlistment bonuses being paid out.
However, as the demand for more soldiers continues to grow, so too does the number of soldiers getting waivers or coming from less desirable classifications of potential recruit. Category IV recruits, those who score below what is generally acceptable on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, made up 0.6% of recruits in 2016.
In 2017, 1.9% of recruits were in Category IV. Category IV recruits, who score between 30 and 10 on the ASVAB, are considered to be barely trainable for even the most basic of Army tasks. The Army is, by law, barred from accepting more than 4 percent of its recruits in any given year from Category IV. In 2018, this could mean as many as 3,200 enlisted troops from the lowest acceptable level of volunteer.
Waivers are meant to allow the military to accept recruits with skills who have minor disqualifying factors in their history. Whether the loosening of standards concerning mental health issues will be a positive or negative for the military remains to be seen.