On May 4, a military recruitment memo prepared by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) announced that individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be prohibited from enlisting in the military, even after they recover.
“During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying,” officials stated in the May 4 memo, which the Pentagon confirmed as being authentic.
Pentagon officials disclosed that the memo was not meant to be released to the public.
The memo provides guidelines for Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) staff to handle potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases. The process begins with screening at all MEPS, which includes taking a temperature and answering questions about symptoms and potential contact with the virus.
If an applicant fails screening, they will not be tested, but they may return in 14-days if they are symptom-free. Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 will have to wait until 28-days after their diagnosis to report to MEPS. Upon return, a diagnosis will be marked as “permanently disqualifying” for enlistment.
Hopeful recruits are permitted to apply for waivers for all permanently disqualifying conditions, including COVID-19. However, without any further guidance for exceptions for COVID-19, a review authority will likely be unable to justify granting such a waiver.
Jessica Maxwell, the Pentagon’s spokeswoman, declined to explain why a COVID-19 diagnosis should be permanently disqualifying, especially when compared to other illnesses that do not automatically preclude military service.
Backlash Prompts Updated Guidelines
Following swift public backlash, Pentagon leaders released a statement claiming that the May 4 memo was only intended to be part of a preliminary discussion, and that the guidelines have not been officially approved.
The guidance was revised on May 6 to suggest that only those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 will be disqualified from military service. However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, stated that even the latest guidelines remain in the drafting stage.
“It hasn’t been rigorously thought out and reviewed by the service secretaries — the chiefs — or the secretary of defense,” General Milley said
“We’re going to have to implement a whole series of protocols,” General Milley continued, “not something only like that memo, but there’s a whole series of adjustments we’re going to have to make to this world we’re now in.”
No Clear Direction
Despite General Milley’s assurances that none of the guidelines have been approved, the military is still facing severe backlash for even entertaining the idea that COVID-19 patients should be banned from military service.
Repeated requests for an explanation on these proposed guidelines have largely gone unanswered.