Army Marksmanship

In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 a U.S. Army recruit is instructed by a drill sergeant, right, during live-fire marksmanship training at Fort Jackson, S.C. AP photo. 

Gerry Broome

The Army may want you - even if you have a history of some mental health problems.

The Army enacted a new policy earlier this year - but did not announce it - that allows people with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression and some other issues can seek waivers to join.

The service has a goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. To meet last year's goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who performed poorly on aptitude tests and increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use.

Expanding the waivers for mental health is possible in part because the Army now has access to more medical information about each potential recruit, Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman, said in a statement. The Army issued the ban on waivers in 2009 amid an epidemic of suicides among troops.

“The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” Taylor told USA TODAY.  “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”

But accepting recruits with those mental health conditions in their past carries risks, according to Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010 and is an expert on waivers for military service. People with a history of mental health problems are more likely to have those issues resurface than those who do not, she said.

“It is a red flag,” she said. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”

Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201

@mandystlpd on Twitter

astamand@post-dispatch.com

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