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ADHD and the Military

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Can Individuals with ADHD Join the Military?

Finding accurate information about whether or not individuals with ADHD can serve in the military is a challenge. CHADD and the NRC often receive questions from parents or teenagers who want to know whether a diagnosis of ADHD or taking medication to treat ADHD disqualifies someone from entering the military service. This challenge is compounded by the fact that military recruiters who have monthly recruitment quotas they must meet, often give incomplete, contradictory, or inaccurate information.

So, the simple answer to this question is ... maybe. 

Enlistment in the military is a multi-faceted process and there are numerous eligibility criteria which a potential soldier, sailor, airman, or marine must meet. These criteria fall into two main categories:  (1) skills and aptitude for military service; and (2) physical standards for military service.  These criteria are evaluated at the Military Entrance and Processing Station (MEPS) when an applicant seeks to enter the military.

Aptitude

Each enlistee must take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). This timed test, for which no accommodations are permitted, measures aptitude in eight critical areas:  general science, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, auto and shop information, mathematics knowledge, mechanical comprehension, and electronics information. 

Physical Standards

In addition to testing for skills and aptitude, enlistees must also meet the, "Physical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction," (Department of Defense [DOD] Directive 6130.3). These standards use the ICD (International Classification of Disease) codes to identify those conditions that could result in a separation from duty or a medical waiver.  At the MEPS, the examination involves a military physician taking a complete medical/psychiatric history and conducting a complete physical examination. For individuals with ADHD, the applicable section of the DOD directive is, "E1.28. Personality, Conduct, and Behavioral Disorders."  In part, this section states the following:

         "The causes for rejection for appointment, enlistment, or induction are a history of such disorders resulting in any or all of the below: ...        

         E1.28.2. Personality (301), Conduct (312), or Behavior (313) Disorders.  Where it is evident by history, interview, or psychological testing that the degree of immaturity, instability, personality inadequacy, impulsiveness, or dependency will seriously interfere with adjustment in the Armed Forces as demonstrated by repeated inability to maintain reasonable adjustment in school, with employers and fellow workers, and other social groups. ...    

         E1.298.4.  Specific Academic Skills Defects.  Chronic history of academic skills (314) or perceptual defects (315), secondary to organic or functional mental disorders that interfere with work or school after age 12.  Current use of medication to improve or maintain academic skills."

Waivers Available

Under certain circumstances, individual military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard) may grant waivers to individuals who do not meet the basic eligibility criteria.  The reasons for which a waiver may be granted are based on the individual's circumstances and may differ from one branch of the military to another. These factors make it difficult to give many general guidelines.  However, it seems clear that demonstrating success either in school or in work for a certain period of time without the use of medication is basic to whether a waiver will be granted. For those with ADHD or other mental health or behavioral conditions, it is important to know that the military's policy of disqualification for the use of daily medication applies to any chronic disorder or condition requiring such medication.  For example, disorders such as asthma, diabetes, coronary heart disease, chronic bronchitis, rheumatoid arthritis ... these are just a few of the hundreds of medical conditions that are disqualifying and individuals with ADHD should not feel "singled out" because of their condition.

Now what?

For the young person with ADHD who has looked forward to a military career, the possibility of being disqualified from such service can be disappointing. However, because ADHD is not disqualifying per se, individuals who want to serve in the military are encouraged to pursue this option, along with other career possibilities. In short:

  • Even if you have been diagnosed with ADHD and are interested in military service, talk to a knowledgeable recruiter and apply anyway;
  • Be completely honest and open about your medical and educational background (being disqualified from service now is better than being discharged or even prosecuted for providing false information later);
  • If you are disqualified initially on medical grounds, ask how you can apply for a waiver.

Service Academies

According to information published at the Web site of the United States Naval Academy, the medical standards for admission are "specific and strict."  There are many conditions which are deemed to disqualify an applicant.  These standards clearly state that "..attention deficit or learning disorders/disabilities, hyperactivity, ... persisting into adolescence are disqualifying" (cf. USNA Catalog). 

Other Web Sites:

  • Military Enlistment Process
    This official site from the Department of Defense provides an overview of the various steps involved in the enlistment process, including pre-qualification, screening, and the Military Entrance Processing Station.
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