Just one day after America celebrated veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, a belated bomb was dropped on those still serving in the U.S. Army.
USA Today reported on Sunday that in August, the Army had quietly lifted a ban on waivers for certain mental illnesses:
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) November 12, 2017
From that report:
The decision to open Army recruiting to those with mental health conditions comes as the service faces the challenging goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. To meet last year’s goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.
But as Army Ranger and author Sean Parnell told Independent Journal Review, we’ve seen what happens when the Army sacrifices strict qualifications for numbers before — and it isn’t pretty:
“Increased waiverable access to the military was something they did when recruitment dropped off about 5 years after 9/11 — around 2007 — and that’s how Bowe Bergdahl happened.
Bergdahl was ruled psychologically unfit for the Coast Guard, but the Army let him in under this ‘open arms’ policy, and then he walked off his post and voluntarily went to the Taliban. Lives were lost searching for him — but that’s not all. Air support was diverted in that search, too.
So what about the guys in ground combat situations who maybe didn’t have air support when they needed it because their support was diverted, too? And this is just the chaos caused by one guy who, for psychological reasons, shouldn’t have been let in at all.”
The problems with opening up waiver access are innumerable, according to Parnell:
“There is no tactical advantage to this.
You have to be physically and mentally fit to deploy — you’re going to be in highly stressful situations. Combat brings out the symptoms and exacerbates the things that might be much smaller problems here.
Self-mutilation is a significant thing. Mental illness is a significant thing. Some of these guys may be on medication that they can’t get in the field. What happens when they run out of meds? Sometimes, we went two weeks between supply drops.
We’re giving these guys loaded weapons and live ammo, and putting them in situations that necessarily bring out the worst in everyone.”
Parnell, who was wounded in 2006 and spent most of the rest of his time in service commanding the rear detachment of his unit, was in a unique position to see firsthand the damage caused by the Army’s move toward what he called an “open arms” policy:
“We were in a 9-month deployment cycle, so we would get guys in and we would train them for six months or so, and they’d do something stupid. DUIs, you name it. One guy burned down a building. And we would have to chapter them out. It creates difficulty for those still in the field, and it makes their jobs that much more dangerous.”
If Parnell is proved correct, this move will not come without cost — even if it’s only the extra cost in medical care, that burden will fall on the taxpayers.
And if this move brings with it more situations like the one caused by Bowe Bergdahl’s desertion, the cost will be measured in lives: “It’s a baffling decision, it’s creating a nightmare scenario — just like what happened with Bergdahl, only on a much wider scale,” Parnell said.