- In 2022 amid a historic recruiting crisis, U.S. military leaders lowered the bar of physical and mental standards required to join the service.
- The changes, such as expanding access for individuals with a history of behavioral health conditions, could reduce military readiness, Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- “These changes have been part of a trend of lowered standards” — mental, physical and medical — “which has taken place over the last two years,” Spoehr explained.
The military’s standards for committed members and new recruits have dropped in 2022 as the services struggle to overcome challenges in filling the ranks.
Army recruiting plummeted in 2022, while the remaining services just made their recruiting goals for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to Department of Defense (DOD) data shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation. The military is scrambling to adjust policies in a way that attracts more recruits, prompting some lowering of physical fitness and academic standards that could negatively impact military readiness, a military expert told the DCNF.
“The military and the administration are trying to overcome the greatest recruiting challenge they have ever faced by reducing certain standards,” Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the DCNF.
The Navy opened up the service to more prospective sailors who score at minimum levels on entrance examinations that test physical and mental aptitude on Dec. 5, Cmdr. David Benham, a Navy Recruiting Command spokesperson, told Military.com. New guidelines will allow 7,500 recruits, or roughly 20% of the new active duty enlisted cohort, from the lowest acceptable aptitude level to join.
While the Navy met its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goal with a surplus of just 42 sailors, the target for 2023 raises the ceiling by an additional 4,000 new applicants, according to Military.com. Officials insisted the change did not reflect a lowering of standards.
“As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, changing the AFQT requirement removes a potential barrier to enlistment, allowing us to widen the pool of potential recruits and creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve,” Benham told the outlet.
The Air Force also relaxed entrance requirements. A new policy revealed in September allowed applicants who test positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, during their entrance physical a second chance to come clean, whereas under prior rules they would be automatically disqualified from service.
In June, the DOD shortened the minimum amount of time individuals with a history of conditions including asthma or behavioral health problems like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder would need to be symptom-free to enlist without a waiver, a DOD issuance shows. The military has allowed 700 recruits previously diagnosed with ADHD to join without a waiver in 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The change could “reasonably lead to lower quality recruits and diminished readiness,” Spoehr told the DCNF.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also reversed a years-long ban on individuals infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) from deploying abroad or joining the officer corps in June. Personnel with nearly undetectable presence of the HIV virus and who demonstrate no symptoms no longer face service restrictions or a barrier to enlistment, according to a DOD memo.
Amid a battle to ensure the Army fitness evaluation adequately measures combat readiness, the Army once again changed performance metrics to account for age and gender in June. Preliminary results from the new Army Combat Fitness Test in 2021 showed women continued to fail the test at much higher rates than their male counterparts, according to Army Forces Command data shared with Military.com, compared to under the prior gender-neutral testing regime.
The Army rolled out additional changes in June, including removing time-consuming waiver requirements that permitted soldiers to sport tattoos on their hands, the backs of their necks and behind their ears. The policy aimed “to help compete for top talent,” a statement said, and “will not have an appreciable impact on military readiness,” according to Spoehr.
The Army finished the year 15,000 troops, or 25% below its objective after reducing projected force size in August, when Secretary Christine Wormuth announced a reduction in total personnel goals for 2023 by 14,000 to 21,000 troops as a means of preserving quality over quantity. Nevertheless, “quality,” defined as 90% of new enlistees holding high school diplomas and at least 60% scoring above average on the fitness exam, also suffered, according to an Aug. 31 release.
“These changes have been part of a trend of lowered standards” — mental, physical and medical — “which has taken place over the last two years,” Spoehr explained.
The DOD did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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