Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards'

Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards'
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The Army’s top leaders Wednesday pushed back hard against a report that the service lifted a ban on granting enlistment waivers for people with a history of mental illness, saying repeatedly that standards have not and will not be lowered as the Army works to bulk up its ranks.

“There’s been no change in standards,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Wednesday. “The Army couldn’t do that even if it wanted to because the standards are Department of Defense standards.”

Milley was speaking alongside acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey at a Defense Writer’s Group breakfast.

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At issue was a weekend report from USA Today that said the Army quietly lifted a ban on waivers for recruits with a history of self-harm, bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse.

The story implied that the change was made to help the Army meet its recruiting goals of 80,000 new soldiers through Sept. 2018.

“Here’s what we’ve told recruiting command and all the commanders: If you make the numbers great, that’s awesome. But make the standard,” Milley said Wednesday. “There will be no reduction in accessions standards. Period. No change. You will not reduce quality in order to gain quantity.”

Milley said anyone has always been able to apply for a waiver, which he described as someone’s right as an American citizen.

What changed, Milley said, is who is allowed to approve the waivers. A 2009 memo made it so only the Department of the Army headquarters can approve them. The change that happened in August was to revert back to allowing the commanding general of Army Recruiting Command to approve the waivers, which is the same level of authority for approval as in the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

“The chain of command goes from the president to the secretary of Defense to commanders, and commanders are people who should be authorized with the authorities to make decisions within the United States military,” Milley said. “So a decision was made in August to go ahead and re-empower the commanding general of recruiting command with the authority to consider and grant waivers.”

That does not mean waivers for any of the conditions listed by USA Today will be granted, he added. Milley read from a Pentagon policy on behavioral health and personal conduct issues that disqualify applicants, including felony convictions, drug use other than marijuana, major depression, bipolar disorder, drug or alcohol addiction not in remission for at least a year, overdoses of any medication, self-mutilation and attempted suicide.

“The decision to say no is given to Gen. [Jeffrey] Snow, but the answer’s still no,” Milley said, referring to the head of Army Recruiting Command. “Those are the categories. You ain’t coming into the U.S. military.”

But pressed on whether someone who has cut or branded themselves, for example, will automatically be denied a waiver, Dailey said waivers have and will be granted on an individual basis.

“If a young man or woman was taken to a hospital because they cut themselves and some doctor said that was some form of self-mutilation and it never happened again, then we’ll look at that case and we’ll make a determination with medical professionals, with behavioral health professionals and ultimately the commander,” Dailey said. “To be automatically exclusionary, ladies and gentlemen, to the American public on certain conditions is not fair.”

Milley, Dailey and McCarthy recounted a case where a recruit had multiple cuts and was evaluated for self-mutilation, but it turned out the recruit was an amateur skateboarder and had gotten cut from falling a lot.

On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.) threatened to block Pentagon nominees over the USA Today report, saying the committee was not informed of any changes.

McCarthy said he spoke with McCain and committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNew York Times: Trump mulling whether to replace Mattis after midterms Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war MORE (D-R.I.) on Tuesday night to clear up the issue and that neither will not hold up nominees. 

“They just wanted us to send them back a note in writing, which will be back there today,” McCarthy said. “They will not hold the nominations. They just want the piece of paper back.”