- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2017

The U.S. Army quietly relaxed standards over the summer to allow potential recruits to receive waivers for a host of previous mental health issues — including self-mutilation.

A 2017 recruiting goal of 80,000 new soldiers through September appears to be at the root of a decision to reverse a 2009 waiver ban on mental health issues. Documents obtained over the weekend by USA Today show a willingness to consider applicants with a history of bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

“It is a red flag,” Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010, told the newspaper on Sunday. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”

Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman, said the “primary” cause for the policy shift in August was increased access to medical records.

“These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories,” Mr. Taylor said. “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. These waivers are not considered lightly.”

Documents viewed by the paper put the onus on applicants to “provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered.”

Army officials did not respond to USA Today’s inquiry as to how many waivers — if any — have been issued since the change in policy.

Update: Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, told reporters that USA Today’s piece on new recruiting guidelines “mischaracterized” the issue.

“Here’s what we’ve told recruiters: If you make the numbers that’s great, but you will make the standard,” Gen. Milley said. “We will not reduce quality to gain quantity. Full stop.”

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