20:58 GMT03 August 2020
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    People with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse and self-mutilation are now able to obtain waivers in order to join the US Army, according to a report published by USA Today Sunday.

    Though waivers for recruits with a history of mental health issues were banned in 2009, the news outlet reported that the latest unannounced policy change had been enacted in August as officials began to face the challenge of recruiting 80,000 new service members by September 2018.

    This is the second year that the US military has lowered its standards in an attempt to reach new recruitment goals. In order to reach a goal of 69,000 new soldiers in 2016, the Army welcomed applicants that scored poorly on aptitude tests, granted waivers to marijuana users and even shelled out millions of dollars in bonuses, the outlet noted.

    And yet, despite the changes, officials say accepting soldiers with a history of mental illness is possible because the Army has more access to its recruits' medical information.

    "The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available," Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesperson, said in a statement to USA Today. "These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories."

    Should recruits look to attain a waiver, they are expected to submit a "detailed statement from the applicant [regarding their mental health history], medical records, evidence from an employer if the injury was job-related, photos submitted by the recruiter and a psychiatric evaluation and ‘clearance.'"

    A memo obtained by the publication notes 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."

    Taylor later indicated several "meritorious cases" had been discovered among applicants who had previously been rejected from the military due to events that took place when they were much younger.

    "With the additional data available, Army officials can now consider applicants as a whole person, allowing a series of Army leaders and medical professionals to review the case fully to assess the applicant's physical limitations or medical conditions and their possible impact upon the applicant's ability to complete training and finish an Army career," Taylor said, adding that "these waivers are not considered lightly."

    Even though several hurdles are in place, not everyone is fully onboard with the move.

    For Elspeth Ritchie, an expert on military service waivers, the sudden change could lead to recruits' mental illnesses being triggered during service as their "issues [are more likely to] resurface than those who do not."

    "It is a red flag," Ritchie told the outlet. "The question is, how much of a red flag is it?"

    Ritchie, mostly concerned with offering waivers to recruits with a history of self-mutilation, says the situation could eventually become "disruptive for a [military] unit" if the affected soldier were to follow through with a suicide attempt.

    The expert later doubled down and said the initiative was a reaction to the US Army's 80,000 recruit goal. "You're widening your pool of applicants," she said.

    Officials did not disclose how many waivers had been issued since the policy change took effect.


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