Individuals with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression, and substance abuse can now apply for waivers to join the U.S. Army under a policy quietly enacted in August.
USA Today reported on Sunday that the policy was enacted without announcement.
The decision to open the floodgates to those with mental health disorders and history of psychological instability comes as the service faces the goal of meeting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018.
Last year, the army lowered its standards to allow soldiers who fared poorly on their aptitude tests to meet its goal of recruiting 69,000. It also increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses for prospective recruits.
According to Lt. Col. Randy Taylor in a statement, the Army is now able to expand waivers for mental health because it has access to more medical information about individuals who enlist. The army had previously banned waivers in 2009 amid a suicide epidemic among soldiers.
“The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” Taylor’s said to USA Today. “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”
However, psychologists warn that the decision carries risks for those who enlist. Speaking to the publication, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010 said that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their issues resurface when they’re in the service than those who lead civilian lives.
“It is a red flag,” said Ritchie, who is an expert on waivers for military service. “The question is, how much of a red flag is it?”
Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder can be kept under control through medication, but self-mutilation may signal deeper mental health issues, according to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM V).
It’s worth noting that gender dysphoria–the psychological condition experienced by transgender individuals–is considered a disorder under the DSM V.
Ritchie points out that self-mutilation may have an adverse impact on the morale of a unit and hurt its cohesion. A soldier who cuts could result in blood on the floor, and prompt the assumption of a suicide attempt and the potential need for medical evacuation from a warzone.
As USA Today points out, recruits with poor qualifications and low aptitude scores causes problems. In 2006, an Iraqi girl was raped and her family killed by a unit of U.S. soldiers—all of whom required waivers for minor criminal activity and poor educational background to join the Army.