OK - So these 2 stories have me a bit concerned - especially since I have put over 30 years of service in -
Army lags slightly on recruiting goal as search for quality trumps quantity
WASHINGTON — The Army is almost keeping pace with its recruiting goals halfway through the fiscal year despite keeping a lid on the number of least-qualified applicants it accepts, senior officials say.
Having scaled back its original goal of hiring 80,000 recruits because of high retention rates, the Army now wants 76,600 new soldiers in order to boost its ranks to 483,500. It sought 29,000 through March -- traditionally the slower time of year for hiring -- and has fallen short by about 1,000.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army's top personnel officer, acknowledged the slight shortfall but added, "I feel confident we will make our mission."
That would be without resorting to accepting more recruits who score among the lowest on military aptitude tests -- a threat that's closely monitored during a boom economy to assure military quality. Less than 2% of recruits fall into that category, Seamands said.
The Pentagon limits the armed services to accepting 4% of recruits who score among the lowest on the tests, but the Army has set its limit at 2%, Army Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Friday.
Last year, the active-duty Army recruited nearly 69,000 soldiers, including 1.9% so-called "Category Four" recruits.
“Quality trumps quantity every day of the week,” Esper said.
To attract new soldiers, the Army has added 400 recruiters and plans to spend $400 million on bonuses for recruits, Seamands said. The average bonus is about $12,000.
Last year, the Army paid $424 million in bonuses, up from $284 million in 2016 and a mere $8.2 million in 2014. Back then, the Army was reducing its ranks and needed to offer incentives to fewer recruits, Seamands said.
During past periods of difficult recruiting, the Army increased waivers for conditions that disqualify recruits. Waivers for marijuana use before joining up jumped from 191 in 2016 to 506 in 2017. Nine states have legalized recreational use of marijuana -- but it's not allowed in uniform.
Receiving a waiver, Esper said, does not predict a recruit’s success in the Army.
Used judiciously, waivers, bonuses and accepting more Category Four recruits can help the Army meet its recruiting goals without compromising quality, said Beth Asch, a recruiting expert at the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corp. The Army has some "wiggle room," she said.
“These policies are very much in line with dealing with recruiting stress in the past,” Asch said.
There is no “black line” that will show the Army has strayed too far, she said. However, studies have shown that recruits from Category Four do not perform as well as higher-scoring peers, and the evidence is mixed on the effect of issuing waivers.
Army issues waivers to more than 1,000 recruits for bipolar, depression, self-mutilation
WASHINGTON — The Army issued waivers over 13 months to more than 1,000 recruits who had been diagnosed and treated for mood disorders and 95 more for self-mutilation, according to data obtained by USA TODAY.
The acceptance of new soldiers with a history of serious behavioral health issues, some of which can be lifelong challenges, came as the Army struggled to meet its recruiting goals. The time period ran from Oct. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017.
Last week, Army Secretary Mark Esper indicated that the Army issues waivers only for mental health issues that have been resolved or upon further review were misdiagnosed. There were no waivers issued for a history of drug overdoses or suicide attempts.
“As the stigma of seeking therapy or counseling becomes less of an issue than when I grew up, you’ll see probably more cause for waivers,” Esper said. “But again, the waiver is only for an historical condition that we look at and assess. We do not allow anybody in who is undergoing therapy, who is a cutter or was a cutter, identified clearly as a cutter or is using drugs. They are not allowed into the service. And I will not accept them. Quality trumps quantity every single day of the week.”
Mood disorders include conditions such as bipolar disorder and severe depression. Self-mutilation can indicate deep psychological problems.
“Bipolar in most cases is a lifelong challenge,” said Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010 and is an expert on waivers for military service. “It is more of a challenge when you’re younger and is not something you can simply be clear of. You’re often on medication for life.”
A history of severe depression raises the risk of suicide, a problem the military sought to minimize in part by eliminating waivers for many behavioral health issues in 2009, Ritchie said.
Last fall, USA TODAY reported on Army documents that showed the service tried to ease the waiver process for recruits with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder and depression. The Army encountered challenging recruiting goals, including adding more than 76,000 soldiers this year. In 2017, it accepted more recruits who had fared poorly on aptitude tests, and it increased the number of waivers for marijuana use.
Sen. John McCain criticized the service for accepting recruits who mutilated themselves.
McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was outraged by the story and threatened in November to hold up nominations for Pentagon posts unless the Army axed the waiver practice. The next day, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, announced that he had rescinded a memo on mental health waivers but insisted that the document never had the effect of policy. The only change, he said, was that the Army allowed a lower-ranking general officer to approve the waivers.
McCain blasted Army witnesses at a committee hearing, saying none of the panel's members favored granting waivers for serious mental health conditions.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that from Oct. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017, the active-duty Army issued waivers to 738 recruits with a history of mood disorders and 49 more with a history of self-mutilation. The Army Reserve and National Guard accepted the rest of the recruits with behavioral health issues.
Soldiers with bipolar disorder often require medication such as lithium, Ritchie said. That medication must be monitored carefully, a task that may be impossible in austere combat environments far from laboratories.
Manic episodes of bipolar disorder can be triggered by sleep deprivation, a common occurrence in the military, she said. She recalled treating an Army major who scrawled graffiti on walls during a “classic bipolar episode” while deployed to South Korea.
“When you’re manic, your judgment isn’t good,” Ritchie said. “You shouldn’t be driving a tank when you’re manic. You shouldn’t have a rifle if you’re manic.”
Accepting recruits with a history of behavioral health issues is risky — for the Army and the soldier, Ritchie said.
“It is concerning,” she said. “It can be very problematic. And we may be setting them up to fail.”
The Army is about 1,000 recruits behind its goal of recruits for this year.