Can you enlist in the military if you have ADHD?
On the surface, enlisting in one of the armed forces seems like a good alternative for young people with ADHD who aren’t interested in going to college. Service in the military provides structure, encourages self-discipline, teaches job skills, and includes adrenaline-filled tasks, all while fulfilling the admirable role of protecting our nation. But while military service might meet many needs of a young adult with ADHD, the flip side is that the enlistment process often disqualifies applicants who have ADHD.
I’ve been looking into this lately because our younger son Alan has been talking about enlisting. He’s never been officially diagnosed with or treated for ADD – the psychologist he ended up seeing for awhile believes it is more of a “style” than a disorder – but whatever you call it, many of the signs are there: disorganization, distractedness, inattention, lack of follow-through, and the volatile emotions that are often part of the package. Like many people with ADD or ADHD, Alan prefers action and excitement over sitting at a desk, and recognizes the need for structure in his life. He also is fascinated with weapons of all sorts. Given all this, would he be successful in the service? Would he even be able to enlist?
A few hours of researching the military policy on ADHD online turned up the following:
- A candidate with ADHD will be disqualified if s/he has taken ADHD medication within the past year, or is currently exhibiting ADHD symptoms.
- A candidate with a history of mood or conduct disorders will also be ineligible for service.
- It is possible in some cases to obtain waivers (and therefore be able to enlist) by providing requested documentation that shows the applicant will be able to function as needed. The waiver process can take a long time.
- It may be tempting not to disclose a history of ADHD treatment, but that would be a felony, with a fine and possible prison time attached.
- The policy is the same for all branches of the military.
Because this is an important subject for which I have no first-hand knowledge, the links to the websites and forums I visited are presented below. You can see for yourself what’s being said by hopeful recruits, military personnel, and parents. Some of the information is repetitive, but that just reinforces the points being made. Where the statements are contradictory, your guess is as good as mine (unless you have personal experience and can set us all straight!)
Before we get to the links, here are definitions for two of the acronyms that show up frequently:
ASVAB: Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Here’s a fact sheet about the ASVABs. A low score on these tests will disqualify the applicant from enlisting.
MEPS: Military Entrance Processing Stations. MEPS will evaluate the applicant’s military aptitude and physical qualification, and will conduct background screening.
Now to the links…
This discussion on an ADHD website touches on: the ASVAB and MEPS requirements; that many chronic conditions are disqualifiers; the possibility of getting waivers; and that ADHD is a disqualifier for the military academies.
This discussion from a forum was started by a college student with ADHD who wants to join the military. The first answer discusses military policy; the other comments bluntly describe the drawbacks of being in the military with ADHD, and how military personnel with ADHD can let their unit down.
This Army forum brings up these points: it is important to discuss your concerns with your recruiter; studying for the ASVABs is a good idea; it can take awhile for waivers to be approved, so plan accordingly; and, waivers are more likely to be approved in the November-to- January timeframe, when recruitment is slow and quotas are often not being met.
Here’s a long forum (it has 7 pages, all fascinating) from Navy moms. You’ll read why deliberate concealment of past medical or psychological issues is a very bad idea; how the Navy finds out about such issues, and what the consequences are; how disclosing your issues results in hoops to jump through and delays, but there are sometimes insiders who can help with the paperwork; that some recruiters advise applicants to lie; why one son with ADHD liked boot camp and is thriving in the Navy; and more! (Note that you can look up Navy terms in the sidebar on the right-hand side).
This is a question from a potential enlistee in the Air Force who had taken Ritalin, but only in elementary school. He gets a very frank answer from a retired sergeant! A few other people chime in. (The ones who advise not to disclose ADHD would probably get smacked down by the Navy moms!)
Now let’s hear from the Marines on an ADD forum! This exchange discusses coping strategies while having ADHD in the military. Some of the participants advise concealing treatment for ADHD when enlisting, but not if your service might involve getting a security clearance.
What I learned from this forum is that being in the Coast Guard requires a lot of rigorous academic skills, which may be a challenge to those with ADHD. An ex-recruiter says he doesn’t remember anyone who’d taken ADHD medications being able to enlist, but he allows that other recruiters may have had different experiences.
This link from a National Guard forum contains the wording of the regulation regarding ADHD, as of 2011, and also discusses how regulations may be updated at any time. In other words: don’t necessarily trust what you find on the Internet, but contact a knowledgeable recruiter!
With that in mind, I called our local Navy recruiter for feedback, and was given the number for the Navy’s regional PAO (that’s Public Affairs Officer, fellow civilians). Chief Stacee Puscian, based in San Diego, confirmed the one-year-with-no-meds rule. She would not discourage anyone with a history of ADHD from trying to enlist, as long as they can meet the criteria for enlisting. For people with a history of mood disorders such as depression, the decision will be made on a case-by-case basis after a psychiatric evaluation by the MEPS personnel. (Thanks to Chief Puscian for that input!)
If you can stand clicking one more link, here is a piece from ADDitude magazine, giving the opinion that while the current military recruitment policy is better than previous, more restrictive policies, it is still too exclusionary of people with ADHD.
The take-away seems to be that people with ADHD can enlist in the military, but they will have to expect more requests for documentation, and more delays, and they are more likely – maybe a lot more likely – to be found ineligible than someone who doesn’t have a chronic condition. Having a back-up plan seems especially wise.
NOTE: you might also be interested in this post: Law enforcement careers and ADHD