The Pentagon is changing its standards amid the largest enlistment shortfall since 1973.
The US military has allowed 700 recruits with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to sign up, after it rewrote its rules on which medical conditions bar applicants from joining, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Tuesday.
The 700 trainees were hired following a decision by the military in June to allow those who suffered from 38 medical conditions to enlist, provided they hadn’t demonstrated symptoms or needed treatment for between three and seven years prior to signing up. These conditions – which include congenital heart defects and tuberculosis – were previously automatic disqualifiers.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told the WSJ that the branch would assess the effectiveness of the program after a year of service by the recruits.
“We want to be cautious,” Wormuth said, referring to hiring those with mental health conditions. “I think we have to constantly be refreshing our approach and looking at conditions in this society.”
The US military is currently hiring from an increasingly unfit population, with only 23% of young Americans meeting the required fitness standards, Wormuth told CNBC in October. Furthermore, only 9% of these 16-21-year-olds are interested in joining in the first place, she added.
This decline in fitness, exacerbated by a Covid-19 vaccine mandate and more-tempting job offers from the private sector, led the Army to experience its worst year for recruitment this year since the abolition of the draft in 1973, according to Wormuth. At the end of the 2022 fiscal year, the Army was 15,000 soldiers short of its 60,000 target, a 25% deficit.
The Navy and Marine Corps are also struggling to meet recruitment targets. The Marine Corps is about 20% down year-on-year, usually securing half of its target by October. The Navy, which usually opens the fiscal year at about 25% of recruitment, reported 10% of the target in October, officials told the Associated Press.
Previous attempts by the Pentagon to lower standards were harshly criticized. High-school dropouts and drug convicts were given waivers to sign up during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to an increase in mental health issues and suicides within the ranks.
Decades earlier, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara drafted as many as 320,000 unfit and low-IQ soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen at the height of the Vietnam War. These substandard service members were unflatteringly dubbed ‘McNamara’s Morons’ by the media at the time.