Fill­ing mil­i­tary quo­tas with the men­tally ill

The Army puts its troops at risk by open­ing the ranks to those with men­tal health is­sues

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Tammy Bruce Tammy Bruce, au­thor and Fox News con­trib­u­tor, is a ra­dio talk show host.

The Army very qui­etly an­nounced in Au­gust that it will lift a ban on waivers al­low­ing peo­ple with a his­tory of men­tal health is­sues, as well as al­co­hol and drug abuse, to join their ranks. Even in nor­mal times this should con­cern you greatly, let alone when the world ap­pears to be pre­par­ing for war. Meet­ing re­cruit­ment goals is one of the rea­sons for this dan­ger­ous de­ci­sion to re­lax cer­tain re­cruit­ing con­di­tions. USA To­day re­ports, “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.”

What sort of men­tal health is­sues will the Army now con­sider as po­ten­tially ac­cept­able? Self-mu­ti­la­tion, bipo­lar dis­or­der, de­pres­sion, and drug and al­co­hol abuse.

Iron­i­cally, the orig­i­nal ban on th­ese waivers was put in place in 2009 dur­ing a surge in sui­cides in the af­ter­math of the Iraq war surge. USA To­day re­ported in 2010 that 1 sol­dier in 9 left the Army be­cause of a men­tal dis­or­der, blam­ing the “emo­tional toll of mul­ti­ple de­ploy­ments” as the cause.

While the im­pact of the war theater can ac­count for is­sues such as PTSD, in 2014 “the largest study of men­tal health risks within the mil­i­tary found that many sol­diers suf­fer from some form of men­tal ill­ness, and rates of many of th­ese dis­or­ders are much higher in sol­diers than in civil­ians,” re­ported CNN.

More­over, “Al­most 25 per­cent of nearly 5,500 ac­tive-duty, non-de­ployed Army sol­diers sur­veyed tested pos­i­tive for a men­tal dis­or­der of some kind, and 11 per­cent within that sub­group also tested pos­i­tive for more than one ill­ness,” noted CNN. “Some of those con­di­tions are re­lated to the hard ex­pe­ri­ence of a wartime Army, but [Ron­ald Kessler, one of the lead au­thors of the study] said nearly half of the sol­diers who were di­ag­nosed with a men­tal dis­or­der had it when they en­listed.”

The Army ar­gues they’re now able to safely make th­ese de­ci­sions be­cause of the ‘avail­abil­ity of med­i­cal records.’ That’s nice, but here’s the prob­lem with some­thing like self-mu­ti­la­tion — it in­di­cates a deeper psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lem that a med­i­cal record may not il­lu­mi­nate.

The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Men­tal Health tell us, “Bipo­lar dis­or­der, also known as manic-de­pres­sive ill­ness, is a brain dis­or­der that causes un­usual shifts in mood, en­ergy, ac­tiv­ity lev­els, and the abil­ity to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Ad­di­tion­ally, it is “de­fined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symp­toms that are so se­vere that the per­son needs im­me­di­ate hospi­tal care. Usu­ally, de­pres­sive episodes oc­cur as well, typ­i­cally last­ing at least 2 weeks,” ac­cord­ing to NIMH. Not ex­actly an op­ti­mum sit­u­a­tion when de­ployed to chase down the in­sane ter­ror­ist en­emy.

Yes, many men­tal ill­nesses can be con­trolled with med­i­ca­tion, but that also re­lies on the pa­tient tak­ing that med­i­ca­tion. In a theater of war, the risks are al­ready mon­u­men­tally high. Why would we put any troop at even greater risk by adding the un­pre­dictable el­e­ment of men­tal ill­ness or drug abuse?

We still hear ar­gu­ments about need­ing to end “shame” about men­tal ill­ness, but this has noth­ing to with shame, and ev­ery­thing to do with fair­ness and safety, in­clud­ing for those af­flicted.

In May, 2017, three months be­fore the Army de­cided to lift the ban, “Most troops booted from the mil­i­tary for mis­con­duct had men­tal is­sues” was the head­line at USA To­day. “More than three of every five troops dis­missed from ser­vice for mis­con­duct from 20112015 had been di­ag­nosed” with a men­tal dis­or­der. With their less-than-hon­or­able dis­charges th­ese troops may lose their VA health ben­e­fits.

For­mer Army physi­cian Mike Simp­son, who served more than three decades in the mil­i­tary told the Daily Caller Foun­da­tion, “‘Few peo­ple would ar­gue that mil­i­tary life is stress­ful, and can ex­pose any weak­ness in a per­son’s men­tal ar­mor,’ Dr. Simp­son said. ‘This is par­tic­u­larly true to­day, as we are en­gaged in a dy­namic and asym­met­ri­cal war on ter­ror through­out the globe. To­day, more than ever, we need to be re­cruit­ing the most men­tally and phys­i­cally re­silient re­cruits pos­si­ble for our mil­i­tary. Now is not a time to lower stan­dards. On the con­trary, men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal screen­ing should be even more strin­gent.’ ”

Last year, the VA study found 20 vet­er­ans com­mit sui­cide every day. We can work to mit­i­gate the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of the war ex­pe­ri­ence on those psy­cho­log­i­cally healthy. But if we have any re­spect for our fel­low cit­i­zens and loved ones strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness, the last thing we should do is place them in the most dan­ger­ous phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ments that man has cre­ated in or­der to meet a quota.


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