Boise psychiatrist responds to Army's mental health waiver policy

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Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, dozens of U.S. Army soldiers carried out abuse, torture and rape on inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison, including Reserve Soldier Lynndie Rana England, who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder before joining the Army.

The Army has shot back against a recent USA Today story pointing out that in August, the Army quietly allowed recruits, who have engaged in self-mutilation or suffer from other mental health issues, to seek waivers.

"These [medical] records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories", Taylor told USA Today.

The Army has not disclosed how many waivers have been issued since the policy was enacted.

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USA Today reported 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. Such waivers once had to be approved at the Army's headquarters level but can now be considered by U.S. Army Recruiting Command or by state adjutants general for those wishing to join the National Guard, the general said. The Army issued the ban on waivers in 2009 amid an epidemic of suicides among troops.

"Few people would argue that military life is stressful, and can expose any weakness in a person's mental armor", Simpson said.

"In a military environment, these and other behaviors have been disqualifying, due to negative consequences for morale and readiness, plus elevated tensions and risks for everyone", Donnelly said.

The Army's decision has raised concerns among mental health professionals. What this reflects is a desperation for more recruits, meaning that the number of qualified recruits applying to join the Army is clearly declining.

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The most recent US mass shooter Devin Kelley, who killed more than two dozen people at a small Texas church, had been diagnosed with mental illness during his time serving in the Air Force, and escaped from a mental health facility after being caught sneaking guns on to his base to kill his superiors.

"The question is, how much of a red flag is it?"

The Army has already been accepting people who fare poorly on aptitude tests. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesperson, said in a statement to USA Today. "I'm just not sure that if you take someone in who is doing this things - the cost over time is very, very, very high".

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