Is the United States Army preparing for a war? It certainly feels that way after they recently lifted the ban on joining by the mentally ill, cutters, and drug abusers in order to meet the recruitment quotas.
Facing extremely low recruitment levels, the U.S. Army quietly (meaning they hoped no one would notice) lifted its ban on allowing people with a history of mental illness, self-mutilation and drug abuse to serve in the military. The ban was lifted despite warnings from the industry about the risks involved. According to Fox News, the new rules green-light recruits who have bipolar disorder, depression, and issues with cutting (a process of self-harm in which a person takes a knife or razor to his or her own skin) along with those who bite, hit or bruise themselves intentionally. They also allow those with a history of drug abuse to sign up.
“I am shocked,” Craig Bryan, executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at The University of Utah, told Fox News. “This contradicts everything we have been working toward for the past 10-to-15 years.” Bryan says there is strong evidence to indicate self-injury is a “stepping stone to suicide” and is “the single strongest predictor of suicidal behavior.” The Army already has the highest rate of suicide when compared to all other branches of the military. The change in policy reverses an eight-year ban on the waivers following a spike of suicides.
Which begs the question: what exactly are they recruiting all these people for?
The decision to lift restrictions comes as the military looks like it will miss its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September of 2018. This new policy was signed off in August but they never announced it, according to USA Today, which first reported on the change.
In order to hit last year’s goal of 69,000 recruits, the Army also accepted men and women who did poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers for pot use, and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses. In the fiscal year 2017, the Army paid out $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016. In 2014, that figure was $8.2 million. According to USA Today, some of the recruits qualified for bonuses of $40,000.
The Army claims that people are overreacting and that these waivers are being “misinterpreted.” The change in waiver procedures, which means requests can be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, or in the case of the National Guard, by the State Adjutant General, has been “widely misinterpreted,” according to Army Deputy Cheif of Staff Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands. “It’s also important to note that the conditions themselves have been unfairly characterized,” he added. “For example, a child who received behavioral counseling at age 10 would be forever banned from military service were it not for the ability to make a waiver request. We’re not prepared to close the door on such individuals who are otherwise medically, mentally and physically qualified for military service,” Seamands said. “We think this is the right thing for our Army, and the selfless young men and women who wish to serve.”
Dr. Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry, told Fox News he believes lifting the ban is a step in the right direction. “The label of mental illness is meaningless,” he said. “There are a ton of people who have a history of something – some kind of emotional trouble – and they are fine. There is no reason in the world they couldn’t serve in the military.” He added, “Stereotypes are pretty evil all the way around. Because of the stigma (of mental illness), we stereotype them.”
Others can see that this may be a much bigger deal than the Army is letting on. “It is a red flag,” Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army in 2010, said. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”
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