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Can Those with Mental Illnesses Serve in the U.S. Military?

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Updated June 04, 2014

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  • I don't think anyone should be surprised the answer is no. As per the United States Army's regulation 40-501, the Standards of Medical Fitness, mental illnesses are disqualifying. Section 2-27 Learning, Psychiatric and Behavior Disorders provides an extensive list of specific disorders and conditions. In example, here are the specific rulings regarding mood disorders such as bipolar disorder:

    d. Current mood disorders including, but not limited to, major depression (296.2-3), bipolar (296.4-7), affective psychoses (296.8-9), depressive not otherwise specified (311), are disqualifying.

    (1) History of mood disorders requiring outpatient care for longer than 6 months by a physician or other mental health professional (V65.40), or inpatient treatment in a hospital or residential facility is disqualifying.

    (2) History of symptoms consistent with a mood disorder of a repeated nature that impairs school, social, or work efficiency is disqualifying.

    And yet there are any number of individuals with mental illness who are serving in the military. Scan any discussion board on this topic and you will find scads of advice about how to circumvent the regulations most in the vein of don't ask, don't tell. I even read one woman's story about how her recruiter counseled her to stop her meds and not include her psychiatric history in her medical write-up. Needless to say she washed out of boot camp.

    In light of yesterday's tragic event at Foot Hood and given the reported lack of mental stability of the perpetrator, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, we are going to see a lot of discussion over the next few weeks regarding mental health of those serving in our armed forces. What is your take on this? ~Kimberly

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