Spease: The military disqualifies too many recruits for injuries

Holly Spease

America is blessed with the most powerful military in the world. According to Business Insider, the US government allocates $612 billion dollars towards national defense. There is no denying that our soldiers have elite training and equipment, which produces a nearly unstoppable force. Therefore, it is reasonable that the military is selective when choosing men and women to serve. Yet, not all factors of a potential recruit seem to be given fair assessment. The physical and intellectual aspects are prioritized, and recently, the military is putting a lot of focus towards improving mental health screenings. Yet, I’ve never heard of a recruit being rejected for not having enough heart. Although being strong and intelligent are vital, passion and the desire to serve the United States should be factored into a potential recruit’s acceptance. There are too many recruits that have unwavering love for their country and the desire to protect that are rejected due to minor injuries.

In order to fully understand this issue, people need to learn about the extensive recruitment process. According to Today’s military there is a physical exam each potential recruit undergoes that requires that certain height, weight, hearing, etc. standards are met depending on the military branch. Additionally, men and women must be skilled in the field that they will be working, thus requiring them to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to determine the career best suited for them. After passing these two examinations the recruit is ready to meet a counselor to determine their career field, they take an oath of enlistment, and finally report to Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). Then in 2014, new mental health screening legislation was passed. In an interview by National Public Radio, Psychiatrist Xenakis and Lieutenant General Schoomaker discuss the process. There are a series of evaluations prior to, during, and following deployment. Each man and woman must also be tested for cognitive brain function using Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM) twice before and after deployment. They must meet in person with a psychiatrist, and each member always has access to a medical professional if they need one.

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Although these physical, intellectual, and mental screenings seem extensive, and it would be rare that someone with an ailment would slip through the cracks. It happens more often than people may think. During the podcast by NPR, medical experts Xenakis and Schoomaker discuss how soldiers are increasingly skirting these tests by not disclosing all information, or stretching the truth. Most people wonder why individuals would want to lie about an ailment that could put their life in danger. The answer is simple to these men and women; they love their country and they have a passion and drive to serve. I have known two men that have first-hand experience with this situation.

When I was a lifeguard I worked with a man named Brion for two years, and his ultimate dream in life was to join the Navy. Every day he would wake up extremely early and go for a run, swim laps, lift, work out with other recruits, etc. He would eat a ton of small meals throughout the day (I’ve never seen someone eat so much chicken and ketchup) and his hard work showed, he was ripped from head to toe. When he finally got into the Navy, he had served for about two and a half months until his superiors found out about his tree nut allergy. He was then retested for other physical ailments, and found out he had a compressed disc and a traumatic brain injury from boxing. Although this seems like a lot he was told by a Petty Officer First Class that if the military were not downsizing he would be able to stay in, so his injuries were not extremely risky. He was so passionate about serving and such a great guy all around that he would have made an amazing sailor, but his passion to serve did not matter as much as a medical record.

Additionally, my other friend, who we will call Travis for anonymity reasons, was working towards joining the Air Force S.E.R.E branch, which stands for survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. He had a shoulder injury from collegiate lacrosse but it was not holding him back. Travis said, “I went through pre-boot camp training learning things about what my 3 possible jobs could entail and then I went to MEPS and made is past everything”. Travis’ last step was to be cleared by three doctors and then he was in, but one out of the three doctors did not pass him because of his shoulder. Travis was even cleared by the surgeon general but could not join because of one injury.

These men were extremely passionate to serve and were serving for the right reasons. They did not want to join the military for free college tuition or health benefits; they joined because they wanted to serve their county and protect fellow U.S. citizens. I’m not saying that we should let extremely injured people serve just because they really want to; but both of these men were capable of serving and their superiors said they were only cutting them because of money. In my opinion, the military should add a fourth test to their screening, and it should be ‘passion to serve.’ Men and women who join because it is convenient should be cut before servicemen like Travis and Brion. At the end of the day, I would rather have someone protecting me who had a shoulder surgery but is completely committed and loves their job than someone who is perfectly healthy but lacks the passion to serve.