Senators are seeking to end “undue discrimination” against military dependents and civilians with prior mental health conditions who seek to enter the military.
“Children who face the stress of parents being deployed, moving frequently and other sacrifices should never be penalized for seeking mental health care,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who introduced legislation in May, along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
The proposal would require the service surgeons general to give “liberal consideration” to children raised in a military family, because of the potential challenges of military family life, when deciding whether to grant a waiver allowing them to join the military despite prior mental health conditions. It the waiver is denied, a mental health provider would have to review the request.
The proposed legislation would require defense officials to scrub their instruction related to standards for entering the armed forces, to eliminate discrimination against people with mental health conditions which render them ineligible, “in particular, individuals with a temporary or adolescent diagnosis of a mental health condition and showing demonstrable improvement.”
“Any discrimination against military dependents or civilians with prior mental health conditions who seek military service should be stopped,” Blumenthal said.
Defense officials would also be required to review records to determine how many military dependents have been denied entry or separated over the last five years because of information placed in their medical records when they were minors.
Over the past two years, Military Times has reported that a number of military dependents are being booted out of basic training because of various notations in their minor dependent records. Often the parents themselves had no idea the notations were in their children’s records. But the notations were discovered because the dependent medical records were merged with their new military service record while they were in basic training.
In one case, a trainee was booted because of a notation made in his medical record when he was a toddler and his mother sought help for him during his father’s deployment.
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Some parents said they sought help for their children for education on coping with normal adolescent life compounded by wartime deployments and frequent moves. But they wouldn’t have sought that help for the child if they’d realized the implications for ruining their child’s aspirations to join the military, they said. In addition, the records of children in the civilian community aren’t automatically merged into their military service record when they join the military.
When individuals are denied entry into the military for a variety of reasons outlined in DoD Instruction 6130.03, they can apply for a waiver.
The proposed law would require that if a child of a military family is denied a waiver because of a prior mental health condition, a qualified mental health care provider must review the denial, and if the provider determines the denial was unwarranted, the service secretary must authorize the individual to enter the military, provided there are no other limiting conditions.
The proposed legislation would require DoD to conduct a review of all medical waiver requests to find out whether individuals with a prior mental health condition are disproportionately denied entry into the military.
The review would also request key information about the effects of these policies.
The proposal would require DoD to determine:
• The number of dependents seeking to enter the military whose minor dependent medical records had been accessed by service personnel;
• The number of dependents who were denied entry into the military based on information in their medical records as minors;
• The number of military dependents who have been separated from the military after the merger of their dependent and service member medical records; and
• Whether the policies in connection with medical waivers of the standards for entry deter military family members from seeking mental health care.
About Karen Jowers
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.