Friday, November 11, 2011

How Disabilities Impact Military Enlistment

Today is Veterans Day, when we stop for a moment and give thanks to those who have served -- and who continue to serve  -- our country.

We thought it would also be a good time to look at how the armed forces deal with students with learning and related challenges. We've written before about efforts to address the special education needs of children whose parents are in the military, but not about how the military deals with learning or attention difficulties in individuals who seek to enlist.

The key to understanding this subject is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to the military services; they are not required to accept any applicant who does not meet their standards or to offer any accommodations to individuals. Although each branch of the military sets its own standards, all of the standards for enlistment have their foundation in the same provision of the Selective Service Act that permits each arm of the military to declare someone unacceptable for service. This exemption from the ADA does not apply to civilian employees of the military and the various branches have actively sought to include individuals with specific disabilities in their civilian workforce.

Individuals who have a physical condition that limits mobility or stamina or who have a history of behavior disorders will automatically be disqualified from all branches of the service. The unifying principle behind the list of disqualifying disorders is that they may interfere with an individual's ability to function as part of a group, to operate anywhere in the world, to deal with stress, and to make effective decisions under pressure.

So, individuals with learning challenges may be able to enlist if they can pass a battery of cognitive and functional tests. Young people with a history of attention difficulties who have not required medication for that condition for three or more years will generally be granted a medical waiver and be permitted to serve in at least some branches of the service. Students who want to enroll in their campus ROTC programs will find that these programs will not admit individuals who would not meet the requirements of the branch of the military with which they are affiliated. 

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