"Hiring Lunatics"

That's how Michael Yon describes the Army's move to permit wavers for recruits with certain mental disorders.
People with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army under an unannounced policy enacted in August, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.

The decision to open Army recruiting to those with mental health conditions comes as the service faces the challenging goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. To meet last year's goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.... accepting recruits with those mental health conditions in their past carries risks, according to Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010 and is an expert on waivers for military service. People with a history of mental health problems are more likely to have those issues resurface than those who do not, she said.

“It is a red flag,” she said. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”

While bipolar disorder can be kept under control with medication, self-mutilation — where people slashing their skin with sharp instruments — may signal deeper mental health issues, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Well, or it may not. I knew a Major who had a huge brand on his arm that he'd gotten from his college fraternity. He was a good officer. Likewise, the Army has been forced to ease its policy on tattoos recently, too. Tattoos are similar to scarification in most respects. Tattoos were looked upon similarly as a sign of mental health or adjustment issues when I was young; now they're close to full acceptance as a mode of self-expression.

The best way to know that someone has their issues (whatever they may be) under control is to see that they have led a successful life. Maybe they drink a bit too much; lots of soldiers do. Maybe they used to cut themselves as a teenager. Nevertheless, they've held jobs of increasing responsibility, they've managed relationships with stability over a long period of time, they have achievements under their belt. 'Warning signs' are just warnings; sometimes ignoring a warning doesn't cause any problems at all.

The problem is that Army has to make decisions about this while people are still young enough that they haven't been tested yet. They are often going to be the first test that these young people might pass -- or might fail. That's a tough spot to be in: if only recruiting 40 year olds was practical.


Tom said...

All things considered, why not open it to anyone who can meet the standards? We're letting women into the infantry, why not old guys into some of the non-combat arms units?

Grim said...

The traditional answer is that, whereas an 19-year old will respond to an order to take an active machine gun nest by trying to take it, a 40-something will respond with "**** you, boss. You go take it."

In fact, though, it's really the same issue that makes opening the infantry to women a bad idea. It's not that they can't meet the standards today; it's a question of how vulnerable they are to injuries that will suddenly (or gradually) stop them from meeting the standards. If measured by capacity to deadlift (as opposed to, say, by capacity to run 7 miles for time), I'm stronger now than I've ever been. But my capacity to sustain a wartime deployment pace is not as great as it was twenty years ago, and my susceptibility to injury is greater. Even a well-maintained 40-something is going to break down under the physical stresses faster than an 19-year old, and they'll recover slower (if at all).

Were we to get to an all-out war, of course, you draft whom you can. I'll wager I'm in better shape for it even now than much of America's youth, by which I mean those who are obese and undisciplined.

jaed said...

History isn't the same as a current issue. If someone was diagnosed with depression at age 16, is now 26 with several years of no mental health issues (and no need for medication), there's a little elevated risk that the issue could recur, but not much.

Calling such a person a "lunatic" good for nothing is... unkind, as well as overwrought. To say the least.

(Now current mental health issues, that's another story.)

Cassandra said...

All things considered, why not open it to anyone who can meet the standards? We're letting women into the infantry, why not old guys into some of the non-combat arms units?

Health care costs and readiness.

Tom said...

Just to play an old devil's advocate, would it be better to not have enough troops, with all of the issues that results in, or to open some jobs like mechanic and computer programmer to people in their 40s?

Grim said...

We do open up those jobs, but as contractor positions. Then you don't have the issues Cass cites: they're responsible for their own health care costs, both immediately and long-term; and if they don't show up, you just hire someone else.

Grim said...

Calling such a person a "lunatic" good for nothing is... unkind, as well as overwrought.

Michael Yon is living in something of a glass house here, as well.

Tom said...

Yeah, that makes sense. So why can't the Army seem to recruit / keep enough people? This has been a problem for them before.

Grim said...

Well, right now they're competing with an economy that's going gangbusters for the first time in years. During the Obama administration, you'd stay in the Army because good luck finding a job on the outside. Unemployment was low only because people had given up looking for work. Now, that's all turned around.

If you join the Army right now, you know you're going to Afghanistan for a year likely as not. You can get a union job in many cities where you'll be paid to learn for the first five years (as opposed to college, where you'd have to take loans), and then you'll be pulling nearly six figures as a master electrician.

All that to the side, though, a major reason is that most of the youth are unqualified. One in three are obese. Add together all the disqualifying factors, and 71% of the American youth are unfit to serve.

So you're really recruiting from only 29% of the population. And, by the way, it's that precise 29% that everyone else wants too. All the best offers are aimed at that minority that is morally, physically, cognitively fit.

Eric Blair said...

FWIW, I saw a tweet on twitter by someone who claimed they had been a recruiter, and their opinion was that this was to get waivers for very specific MOSs, not actually trying to recruit the mentally ill wholesale.

Tom said...

That's a pretty good explanation, Grim. Thanks.

Eric, which MOSs are they for?

Anonymous said...

Not Eric, but I'd guess cyber-security and the related areas.


douglas said...

Yeah, that sounds quite possible. Also, you have to understand how many kids are diagnosed and medicated with various things these days- a lot of parents are quick to get a diagnosis and medication without any thought of the luggage that's going to be attached to their child going forward. One Boy Scout Summer Camp, I saw the bag of medications for the Troop- it was HUGE. Blew my mind that there was so much medication for but a score of boys.

Hopefully the Doctors/boards that consider the waivers will be very careful. Hopefully.

Grim said...

Now the Army is denying this decision was ever made.

Eric Blair said...

I think there was infighting going on in the Army about this, and the decision got leaked, and the near universal bad reaction to it got people's attention.

Ymarsakar said...

So long as they don't water down the ASVAB test the way they did Marine corps training for women, they can filter out nearly as many bad seeds as before.

The combined aptitude and IQ test is quite comprehensive. Enough that people ask for private tutoring on for a paid industry.