The U.S. Army is lifting an ban on recruits with a history of mental illness as a means of boosting recruiting numbers, a unilateral decision that could damage readiness and actually hurt the effort to recruit quality young Americans to serving their country in uniform.
The Army made the decision in August, but it is only making it public now as it fears efforts to recruit 80,000 new soldiers by September 2018 may fall short. Americans who deal with bipolar disorder, depression, self-mutilation or drug and alcohol abuse are now eligible to be recruited, although the Army insists it will screen such applicants vigorously to ensure they are fit for service.
That’s not good enough for Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly.
“This is not a good sign,” Donnelly told WND and Radio America. “At least one expert quoted in the USA Today story said that when you induct people who have psychological problems, it is definitely a red flag. Those psychological problems often get worse in the military. Rates of suicide in the military are much higher than in the civilian world.”
Read WND’s explosive report revealing the U.S. Army’s crisis in psychological testing and treatment, “Fort Hood post mortem: Crisis in psych testing.”
She said one of the recruiting headaches is that a growing number of young people are not physically fit for the military, but she said that shouldn’t trigger a sliding standard on mental health.
“Issues of mental competency also are important,” Donnelly said. “Mental conditions that detract from readiness to deploy, that interfere with unit cohesion, that contribute to stress and controversy within a given unit, these issues also are important.”
She said it’s not the first time the military has gone down this road.
“We have pressures to include transgenders in our military. Gender dysphoria is one of those mental conditions that render a person unqualified for military service. It’s one of many,” Donnelly said. “Now we see the list being edited to include some mental conditions in the same way.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Elaine Donnelly:
Donnelly said the policy decision makes life more difficult for others in the military, starting with the recruiters, who may soon be urged to accept applicants that ought to be rejected.
“I think the pressure will be on to meet the quotas,” Donnelly said.
She also said problem cases who slip through recruiting and training have and could again become major headaches for battlefield commanders.
And in an ironic twist, Donnelly said the effort to relax standards may actually hurt recruiting of the people the military wants and needs to sign up.
“The military is a very special institution. It requires special young people to join,” Donnelly said. “If you start playing games with standards and making excuses for including people who are not suited for military service, that’s only going to make the problem worse.
“We have to be very careful. Not everybody is eligible to serve in the Armed Forces. And if you pretend like it is an equal-opportunity employer, then you put everybody’s lives at greater risk.”
So why is the Trump administration allowing this? In short, it may not have much of a say at all. Donnelly said the Army can change the policy without any input from Congress. Furthermore, she said President Trump’s people still aren’t on the job.
“It was only last week the new secretary of the Army was confirmed,” she said. “So this was a decision made by people from the Obama administration, not the Trump administration.
“The person in charge of personnel matters in the Department of Defense hasn’t even been confirmed yet, the Trump appointee. So this may be an open issue that may be revisited, and I hope it will be.”