Recently, a previous patient of mine contacted me to ask if I could fill out a medical form for him, as he is in his 20′s and he is applying to the Canadian Armed Forces. I was surprised he is already in his 20′s (time flies!), and I started to wonder about how ADHD may impact people’s ability to get into the military. This young man actually had depression when he was 16 years old, so I won’t be able to report back to you how the Canadian Military handled his case (with respect to ADHD, I mean).
Searching online for ADHD and the military – I found a couple of resources that may help. The first is an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics. In this article from 1998, the author summarizes information from one scientific article, as well as information gathered from military sources.
A second resource came from a forum post, where the author shared his experience having had ADHD when he was younger, and then joining the US Air Force. Other people have joined the conversation, and you can find that here.
The ultimate question that will come up for someone considering the military is – can I get in if I have ADHD?
The short answer is: ‘maybe’.
Based on the sources mentioned above – it seems unlikely that one can get into the Army, Air Force, Navy and particularly the Marines (they are noted to be the most strict) if they have to take a daily medication. This applies to a thyroid condition, diabetes, or any medical condition that requires daily medicine.
This would apply to ADHD – if you take daily medicine. The articles suggest getting off your medication for approximately 1 year prior to applying to the military. If you are able to function well without the medication, then you may be eligible to enlist. The reason for this rule is that requiring a daily medication may present a risk in a combat situation.
Other criteria for the military include the fact that one could be excluded for a personality or behavioral disorder. If one has ADHD or ADD and has had numerous troubles associated with it – including substance abuse, trouble with the law, associated depression or suicidality, etc. – that may make it harder to enlist in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.
One other key point mentioned in the article is that recruiters may or may not share accurate information with potential recruits. This is concerning – and suggests that an interested person should pursue information from multiple sources before feeling that he/she has an accurate answer.
It is important to note that the best reference I found (the American Academy of Pediatrics article written above) was from prior to September 11, 2001. It is an article from 1998. Now that the US is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Canada is in Afghanistan), it is possible that the rules for obtaining a ‘waiver for ADHD’ may be different now. Again – it is worth reviewing this with a recruiter (or two or three).
It is my belief that people with ADHD can do extremely well in the structure of the military. In these times, their contribution can be most welcomed – if the military welcomes them.
Will the military welcome people diagnosed with ADHD?
The short answer is ‘maybe’.
I am hopeful that those of you reading this article will share your experiences, and help to update the policies described above to what is happening now (this is being written in August 2009). We have had a very productive discussion on this blog about the FAA requirements for pilots with ADHD, and I hope that this post can develop into a productive discussion to help people seeking answers to this question.
**Addendum – a further internet search found this article, on the ADDitudeMag site, entitled: Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You! It describes more up to date information about the military. It notes that there are new standards in place. The article shares:
“Under newly revised standards, ADHD is disqualifying only if the potential recruit has been treated with ADHD medication within the past year, or if he or she displays “significant” evidence of ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and distractibility. (The definition of “significant” is up to the military medical examiner.) Documentation of any treatment of ADHD within the previous three years must be submitted in advance of the medical evaluation. “
This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I think not enough.
Please share your thoughts and experiences below.