UH-OH: U.S. Army Easing Mental Health Rules For New Recruits

Terrific.

According to documents obtained by USA Today, the U.S. Army is loosening recruiting standards so people with a history of mental health problems can join the Army.

Issues that will no longer prevent people from joining the Army include a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. In August, the Army implemented a new policy paving the way for people who have suffered with those issues to become members of the Army.

The Army has a goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. Last year's goal of 69,000 was met by accepting people who had low scores on aptitude tests, and allowing more waivers granted for marijuana use.

Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman, explained the new policy, which contrasted with the ban on waivers implemented in 2009 when there was a flurry of suicides among troops. Taylor stated:

The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available. These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories. … With the additional data available, Army officials can now consider applicants as a whole person, allowing a series of Army leaders and medical professionals to review the case fully to assess the applicant’s physical limitations or medical conditions and their possible impact upon the applicant's ability to complete training and finish an Army career. These waivers are not considered lightly.

As USA Today notes:

While bipolar disorder can be kept under control with medication, self-mutilation — where people slashing their skin with sharp instruments — may signal deeper mental health issues, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. …

Guidance for screening potential recruits with histories that include self-mutilation make clear that the applicant must provide “appropriate documentation” to obtain the waiver, according a September memo to commanders. Those requirements include a detailed statement from the applicant, medical records, evidence from an employer if the injury was job-related, photos submitted by the recruiter and a psychiatric evaluation and “clearance.

There were 145 suicides in the armed services in 2001; that number steadily increased year after year until it reached 321 in 2012, 273 in 2014 and 254 in 2013. From 2001 through 2007, suicides never exceeded 197. In the Army, there were 45 suicides in 2001, rising to 165 in 2012.

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