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Is it possible for me to enlist in the military if I have asthma?

Many people want to join the military, but the military has severe enrollment standards and qualifications. Good general health and adequate physical fitness are two of the most important conditions.

In the United States, most people with asthma are ineligible to join any branch of the military. However, a person may be granted a waiver to enlist based on their medical history, general outlook, and the severity of their condition.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects the airways and makes breathing difficult. Symptoms can be triggered by a variety of causes, including changes in the weather and severe physical exertion. About 20 million adults in the United States suffer from the condition.

Enlisting with asthma

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People with asthma who are over the age of 13 are banned from joining the military, according to the Department of Defense’s 2018 Medical Standards for Military Service: Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction. Those who have not had asthma or received treatment for it by this age, however, are eligible to enroll.

People who are currently suffering from asthma symptoms are automatically excluded. An asthma evaluation will search for indications of persistent cough, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath that has lasted longer than 12 months, according to the Army Medical Department.

People with asthma who are older than 13 years old may still be able to join the military, but a medical waiver will be necessary. A waiver is granted based on the length of time since a person last experienced symptoms or received treatment, the severity of their asthma, and their overall outlook.

Although the rules are the same for all branches of the military, how the medical waiver process is handled varies. The following are the processes to potentially receiving a medical waiver:

  • Send the recruiter a completed medical prescreen form, which will be forwarded to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
  • The form is reviewed by a doctor at MEPS. They have the power to disqualify someone on the spot or schedule them for a medical check.
  • A person may only be requested to produce a signed declaration verifying that they have not had asthma or received treatment for it after their 13th birthday during their visit to MEPS. Those who have had asthma since they were 13 years old must submit all of their medical documents, including hospital and outpatient treatment records.
  • A person will be subjected to examinations, including a physical examination and a pulmonary function test (PFT), in addition to presenting their medical records . Following the examination, the doctor will determine if the person is medically qualified or will be temporarily or permanently disqualified.
  • Anyone who has received a permanent disqualification will have their records and medical recommendation sent to the recruiting commander or a representative of the service by MEPS. This person will decide whether or not to obtain a waiver.
  • If the recruiting commander requests a waiver, the waiver request will be reviewed by military medical officials from various levels of the organization. They will vote yes or no until the request reaches a high-ranking doctor, who will make the final decision.

Medical history and current requirements

Previously, anyone with a history of asthma, regardless of age, was automatically barred from joining the military. However, in 2014, the Department of Defense changed its policy to exclude just individuals who had had asthma since they were 13 years old.

People with a childhood history of asthma did not contribute significantly to military attrition or hospitalizations due to asthma, according to a 2008 study.

Branch-specific requirements

Although the requirements for applying for a waiver are the same for all branches, each branch has its own set of guidelines.

Army

Only people who have not had asthma after their 13th birthday are eligible to enroll, as is the case with the general criteria. In addition, if any of the following apply, the army will not deploy present soldiers:

  • repetitive intake of oral corticosteroids
  • a recent visit to the emergency room
  • the inability to wear protective gear

Air Force

The Air Force said in 2017 that individuals with a questionable history of asthma would be considered for a waiver provided they passed the methacholine challenge, a sort of test that determines whether a person’s airway is susceptible to spasms.

Navy

Any history of asthma, even a mild form, can disqualify a candidate for aviation training and duties, according to the Navy’s Aeromedical Reference and Waiver Guide (ARWG). They can, however, get a waiver if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • normal methacholine challenge within 1 year of the waiver application
  • an accomplished ARWG worksheet
  • currently has no symptoms and has had no symptoms and no medication for at least 5 years
  • normal PFT within 1 year of the waiver application

Marines

For health waiver applications, the Marine Corps follows the same guidelines as the Army. Because the branch is known as the most elite arm of the US military, it must always maintain its high standards.

Coast Guard

People who have been approved by MEPS, according to the Coast Guard, do not need to be reviewed again. Recruiters who believe an applicant has been disqualified incorrectly can send any appropriate paperwork to the commander for examination.

Common myths

There are many fallacies about the military, not just in terms of health. Some of these are debunked below.

Those who get asthma while serving in the military will be discharged

The military’s Medical Standards for Retention state that a person will only be discharged if their condition persists despite treatment and prevents them from executing their duties satisfactorily. Some people, however, may receive an alternative assignment that is less likely to cause asthma.

People join the military to supplement their income.

The military “no longer primarily recruits those from the most disadvantaged socioeconomic situations,” according to a 2020 research.

People with less talent join the military.

According to the same 2020 survey, the majority of candidates had ordinary to slightly above-average cognitive abilities. Despite popular belief that increased technology necessitates lower skill levels, studies contend that people with greater skill levels are better equipped to work with complicated and sophisticated technology.

Women find it difficult to enter the military.

Except for the marines, where women make up only 8% of the officers, women make up about one-fifth of all officers in every branch. Furthermore, in most branches, the proportion of women officers was larger than that of enlisted personnel.

People who join the military after high school do not have the opportunity to further their education.

Members of the military are eligible for tuition help under the Military Tuition Assistance Program, which pays up to 100% of tuition and school expenses, according to the Department of Defense’s stated limits.

Other “top-up” programs, such as the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reimburse the costs not covered by tuition assistance.

The ASVAB is not necessary.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) establishes a person’s eligibility to join the military in the United States. Furthermore, to qualify for specific military roles, a high score on particular ASVAB areas is required.

Support services

Because asthma is a chronic condition, people who have had it before may experience symptoms again as they get older. Furthermore, people who already have asthma may notice that their symptoms increase over time.

According to a 2018 longitudinal study, combat-experienced individuals had a 24–30 percent higher risk of getting asthma than those who had not been deployed.

According to a 2015 study, it is critical that military members receive the proper diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. To validate whether the diagnosis is correct, the authors propose performing both PFT and bronchoprovocation testing, such as the methacholine challenge test.

The Military Health System (MHS) guarantees that all active duty and reserve soldiers are healthy and prepared to perform their duties. Medical benefits and treatment are also provided by the MHS to its members and beneficiaries, such as family members and retirees.

Conclusion

People with active asthma are not allowed to join the military. Those who have a history of asthma but haven’t had any symptoms after the age of 13 might request a medical waiver to prove their eligibility.

A medical waiver is granted on a case-by-case basis. It depends on a number of circumstances, including the person’s age when they last experienced symptoms and the severity of the condition.

Furthermore, the United States military has stringent medical requirements for recruitment, with each branch having its own set of requirements. People who want to enroll should read the conditions carefully to verify that they are eligible.

Sources:

  • https://www.health.mil/About-MHS
  • https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/
  • https://media.defense.gov/2018/Jul/05/2001939216/-1/-1/0/CIM_6000_1F.PDF
  • https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/demographics-us-military
  • https://www.qmo.amedd.army.mil/asthma/militaryspecificissues.pdf
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/can-i-enlist-in-the-military-with-asthma
  • https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/173/4/381/4557665
  • https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/montgomery-active-duty/
  • https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/post-9-11/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6375480/
  • https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/187/10/2136/5035668?login=true
  • https://www.officialasvab.com/

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