Published: Wed, November 15, 2017
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Army to allow recruits with prior mental health, drug abuse issues

Army to allow recruits with prior mental health, drug abuse issues

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has threatened to block Pentagon nominees until the Army briefs his panel on a newly relaxed recruiting policy that would allow those with mental health issues to serve, Inside Defense reported on Tuesday.

The mental health condition waiver is possible because the Army has better access to more medical information about each potential new soldier, an Army spokesperson said in a statement.

The Army enacted a new policy earlier this year - but did not announce it - that allows people with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression and some other issues can seek waivers to join.

Mental health waivers were banned in 2009 to stem a surge of military suicides.

"You're widening your pool of applicants", she said, adding that individuals with a history of mental health problems are more likely to have those issues resurface than those who do not.

Applicants seeking a mental health waiver have to "provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered", according to one memo obtained by USA Today.

"Unfortunately, this simple, administrative change has been substantially misinterpreted", Seamands said.

"Previously, these waiver requests could only be approved at the Department of Army Headquarters level", Seamands said.

The most recent US mass shooter Devin Kelley, who killed more than two dozen people at a small Texas church, had been diagnosed with mental illness during his time serving in the Air Force, and escaped from a mental health facility after being caught sneaking guns on to his base to kill his superiors.

Mental illness behaviors can also disrupt the functioning of units and affect other soldiers. "This is particularly true today, as we are engaged in a dynamic and asymmetrical war on terror throughout the globe".

"We're not prepared to close the door on such individuals who are otherwise medically, mentally and physically qualified for military service", he said. "On the contrary, mental and psychological screening should be even more stringent".

McCain, who held up several Trump nominees last month until he could be briefed to his satisfaction on the administration's approach to Afghanistan, said he would "stop confirming people for jobs" if the Army did not communicate with him and the committee on its new recruiting policy. "I'm just not sure that if you take someone in who is doing this things - the cost over time is very, very, very high".

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