Jennifer Barnhill at The War Horse:
Autism is one of hundreds of conditions—from asthma to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to a history of anxiety—the Defense Department says disqualifies people from serving in the military.
The average American doesn’t meet the basic qualifications to serve, and the pool of eligible Americans has dropped from 29% in 2013 to 23% in 2023. About 4% of eligible applicants would be ruled out for psychological and developmental diagnoses, such as autism, depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to the Defense Department, which works out to thousands of potential recruits a year.
More than five million Americans have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study in 2020.(iStock/Getty Images)
As the military faces a recruiting crisis, with the Army, Navy, and Air Force expected to miss their goals this year, the military medical waiver process may no longer be serving the services. Qualified candidates may not bother to apply because the process is so opaque—enough so that Congress has enacted legislation to ensure medical waivers do not “inappropriately” disqualify candidates. And how each service processes medical waivers varies, frustrating recruiters and recruits alike. This affects a generation of potential recruits—including young adults diagnosed with ADHD or people with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum who may be more inclined to choose careers in cybersecurity or coding—who often have the focus on detail and ability to see patterns the military needs to protect the United States.
However, the Defense Department has launched a pilot program to try to streamline the issue, and it looks as if recent changes may have affected the number of potential recruits being turned away.