U.S. Army senior leaders on Wednesday downplayed reports that the service had recently changed its policy in order to grant mental health waivers to recruits with a history of self-mutilation and mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
"The standards have not changed," Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey told a group of defense reporters.
Rather, the service lowered the authority at which recruiting waivers could be approved, Dailey explained. In the past, the waivers could only be approved by Department of Army Headquarters level; now, he said, they can be signed off by Army Recruiting Command, which is headed by a two-star general.
"The delegation of authority has [changed] -- which is appropriate; we trust commanders to make decisions, on the battlefield and at home," Dailey said.
Dailey, who appeared at the forum alongside Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, came in response a recent USA Today article that cited an Aug. 7 internal memo indicating that individuals with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse could now seek waivers to join the service.
Dailey said the idea that "we want to get to an Army with no waivers would be incorrect."
"There are waivers. There always have been; there always will be. Your Sergeant Major of the United States Army is on a waiver when I came in the Army almost 30 years ago," he said. "It's a hearing waiver, one of the most common waivers we give."
Dailey and Milley maintain that the Army considers requests for waivers to Pentagon policy but follows strict guidelines before any waivers are granted.
The Army's recruiting goal for fiscal 2018 is 80,000 new soldiers, compared to fiscal 2017's goal of 69,000 new soldiers.
"It's a tough task; there are 350 million people in America and there is a decreasing population of eligible 18-to-24 year-olds," Dailey said. "But I have no doubt that we will be successful in doing that. "We demonstrated that last year; we met all of DoD thresholds for requirements for our young soldiers. ... We have not violated the DoD standards, and there will be no intent to do so."
Milley read off DoD policy that states the individuals diagnosed with mood disorders such as major depression and bipolar disorder as well as any condition involving self-mutilation are disqualified from entering military service.
"If you have a history of self-mutilation, you are not coming into the military," Milley said.
The Army, however, reviews any requests for waivers to these disqualifiers on a case by case basis.
"If a young man or woman was taken to a hospital because they cut themselves and some doctor said 'that was some form of self-mutilation; and it never happened again -- then we will look at that case, and we will make a determination with medical professionals, with behavioral health professionals and ... it will go to the appropriate level and we make a decision," Dailey said.
"To be automatically exclusionary, ladies and gentleman, to the American public on certain conditions is not fair."
There are gray areas, Milley acknowledged. Branding a permanent symbol or design into the skin can be a form of self-mutilation.
"Now is branding self-mutilation? Maybe-maybe not; it goes through screening process ... and a determination is made whether the person has a history of self-mutilation or not. If the answer is yes, they can't come in the military."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.