The Army, facing the challenge of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers by September next year, has opened the door to people with mental health issues that would have prevented them from signing up in the past. According to documents obtained by USA Today, the Army will now consider granting waivers to people with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and self-mutilation. The Army banned mental health waivers after a 2009 surge in suicides, but spokesman Lt. Col. Randy Taylor says it is now possible to expand such waivers because the Army now has greater access to medical records and other information on potential recruits.
Taylor says many highly qualified applicants were previously disqualified because of things that happened when they were young children. With the extra data, the military can "now consider applicants as a whole person," allowing Army leaders and medical professionals to fully review each case, he says. "These waivers are not considered lightly." An Army memo seen by USA Today states that for all waivers, the "burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered." Last year, the Army took steps including raising the number of waivers for marijuana use to meet its target of 69,000 recruits. (Read more US military stories.)