For more than a year, the Army issued waivers to more than 1,000 recruits who had been diagnosed and treated for mood disorders and nearly 100 who self-mutilated, USA Today reported this week.
From Oct. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017, the service accepted new soldiers with a history of behavioral health issues — including bipolar disorder and depression — as it contended with meeting recruiting goals.
The active-duty Army gave waivers to 738 recruits with a history of mood disorders and 49 with a history of self-mutilation. The remaining waivers went to recruits in the Army Reserve and National Guard, according to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information Act by the news outlet.
Army Secretary Mark Esper said last week that the Army gives out waivers only for mental health issues that have been resolved or were misdiagnosed. No waivers were issued for a history of drug overdoses or suicide attempts.
“The waiver is only for an historical condition that we look at and assess. We do not allow anybody in who is undergoing therapy, who is a cutter or was a cutter, identified clearly as a cutter or is using drugs. They are not allowed into the service. And I will not accept them,” Esper said.
The military in 2009 sought to limit suicides by eliminating waivers for numerous behavioral health issues.
But Army documents reported by USA Today last year showed that the service tried to relax the waiver process for recruits with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder and depression.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE (R-Ariz.), angered by the report, in November threatened to hold up Pentagon nominees over the change.
McCain said his committee was not notified of the policy change prior to the article.
“We should've been told about this before it showed up in a USA Today article,” he said. “The Army did not respond to a question of how many waivers, if any, have been issued since the policy was changed.”
The Army downplayed the changes and said it was a "simple, administrative change,” that allowed U.S. Army Recruiting Command or the state adjutant general for the National Guard to approve waivers.
Before, waivers could only be granted by the Department of Army headquarters.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley later said there was “no change in standards.”
The Army has struggled to add 80,000 soldiers through September 2018 and is about 1,000 recruits behind. To reach its goals in 2017, it increased the number of waivers for past marijuana use and allowed in more recruits who had done badly on aptitude tests.