United States Army threatens stability of potential recruits by lifting ban on waivers for mental illnesses

(Pictured above) Eighty-second Airborne Division’s first Brigade Combat Team in 2011 at Fort Bragg, N.C. The controversial decision to allow mental illness waivers threatens the safety of not only individuals joining the army, but also our nation and enemy lines. (Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod/creative commons)

The United States Army discreetly lifted the ban on waivers for possible recruits with a history of mental illnesses in early 2017, according to USA Today

Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands stated that instead of the Department of the Army Headquarters approving all submitted waivers, “now U.S. Army Recruiting Command may make decisions on them, or a state’s adjutant general in the case of the National Guard,” according to the Army Times.

Such waivers may range from people with a history of bipolar disorder or depression, to those with a history of self-mutilation or drug and alcohol abuse. This change in policy is potentially detrimental to the U.S., and puts not only such individuals in danger, but also their fellow soldiers and the nations at war.

The Army initially banned waivers in 2009 due to a mass increase in suicides among soldiers, according to USA Today. This alone should keep the army from considering recruits who were mentally unstable in the past. 

If enrollment in the military led many to become suicidal, this should be taken as a sign to analyze and refine mental health screenings among troops, both current and potential. The Army should be taking strides toward improving the mental health of its soldiers, seeing as it is an overwhelming issue. Instead, the Army seems to be doing the exact opposite. 

Being in the military consists of strenuous training and life-or-death situations, which can cause soldiers to have mental breakdowns. A study observing 5,500 soldiers found that they were five times more likely to have major depressive disorder than civilians are, according to CNN. Such traumatic experiences can have a dramatic effect on the average person’s mental health. Considering this heightened risk of suicidal thoughts, one with a history of self-harm or similar mental illnesses should not be permitted to join such a stressful environment. 

Claims have been made that the U.S. Army made the change in order to reach a quota of 80,000 recruits by September of this year, according to The Washington Times. It is conceivably more important to consider the stability of each soldier, rather than the size of the army as a whole. Due to the access to lethal weapons and technology, all it takes is one soldier in the wrong mindset to threaten the safety of those all around them.

Although, each potential recruit must provide proof of their current mental stability, their history should be weighed more heavily. Having a history of self-mutilation, depression, bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol abuse should be taken as a significant warning sign of the individual’s poor ability to handle pressure, and therefore should keep them from enlisting in the military, where they’ll be faced with great amounts of stress, according to CNN.

If the Army continues to accept waivers for mental illnesses, they should do so with great caution. Mental health screening should be a rigorous process in which the army merely makes exceptions. For those who wish to serve their country, but may not be mentally capable of joining the army, there are many other options. 

One can also show their patriotism through non-combative positions in the military and supporting the troops with donations or other simple acts of aid. Barring people who are mentally unstable from enlisting in combat is not an injustice, but rather a way of protecting them from the unfathomable stress of war.