Asthma is a chronic lung disease which makes it harder for individuals to move air in and out of their lungs.
One in 13 people have asthma and many times they are diagnosed in their youth before they have a chance to enter certain career paths.
If you have asthma, and are thinking about joining one of the military branches, here is the information you need to know.
So can you join the military with Asthma?
In almost all cases, if you currently have asthma you will not be able to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. If you were diagnosed with Asthma past the age of 13, you may still be able to enlist with a waiver. Before you officially enlist in any of the military branches, you will undergo what is known as a Pulmonary Function Test, or PFT. This test will determine the extent of your asthma, and whether not it’s a disqualifying condition.
If you’d like to see the specific asthma policy for each military branch, read more below.
Navy’s Policy On Asthma In 2019
OMK spoke with Officer Mendoza, a Navy recruiter stationed in Atlanta, Georgia, about the Navy’s policy on Asthma.
Here’s what he had to say:
It’s definitely possible to get in the Navy if you were previously diagnosed, but it can be very difficult. For starters, if you currently have asthma, it’s not going to work out.
The military has a very strict policy on this; if you are currently being treated for asthma, then you will not be able to serve.
In addition, any history of Asthma after the age of 13 will require a waiver.
The waiver process will happen at your Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS.
Before enlisting, you’ll be required to perform what’s known as a pulmonary function test, or PFT.
A PFT is essentially a noninvasive test that show how well your lungs work. (Source)
If you can pass this test, you can join the Navy.
What about if you’re currently serving?
If it’s discovered that you have Asthma while you’re serving, you’ll be discharged.
The biggest concern would be for anyone thinking about becoming a Naval Aviator (pilot).
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The Navy’s policy is pretty straightforward on this as well; Any history of asthma (at any age, even before 13), including childhood asthma and exercise-induced asthma, is considered disqualifying for aviation duties and training.
This includes even very mild asthma.
For all other rates (jobs), the recruit will perform a series of physical tests during MEPS.
If the doctor expects asthma, then you’ll be referred to a specialist.
Army’s Asthma Policy For 2019
Things aren’t much easier if you’re considering joining the Army.
Just like with the Navy, if you currently are being treated for Asthma, it’s grounds for immediate disqualification from Army service.
However, if you haven’t had any Asthma symptoms past the age of 13, you’re good to go.
If you have had Asthma past the age of 13, but do not currently have Asthma, you can still get in with a waiver.
The waiver process is similar to that of that Navy, and requires you to take a Pulmonary Function Test.
In addition, your complete medical history regarding your Asthma will be examined, as well as your current condition.
OMK spoke with Sergeant Hewitt, an Army recruiter stationed out of Atlanta, GA, to get a more concrete answer on what would happen if you were diagnosed with Asthma while serving.
Here’s what he had to say:
If you develop Asthma while serving in the Army, the soldier will be sent to the doctor for a full checkup.
A PFT will be conducted, and the doctor would make a recommendation to the Army as to your status.
Medical Exams And Records
When enlisting in any branch of the military, there is a point when you are required to undergo a medical examination as well as a medical record review conducted by subject matter experts.
As a part of your initial application, you are required to declare any medical deficiencies and release related documentation showing the extent of the disorder.
Previously, Asthma was an automatically disqualifying factor when joining the military.
This means that it was not a factor that could be waived meaning no matter what, you could not get in.
With the competition of benefits and pay in the civilian job market and ever changing politics, branches like the Air Force and Navy decided to find ways to let more people in and essentially raise their numbers.
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One of the main ways they could still allow good people to join the ranks, was by reevaluating the medical disqualifying factors.
As part of the 2014 evaluation of the Armed Forces’ medical enlistment standards, the implementation of a policy that allowed one to enter the military with asthma as long as they were not diagnosed with the condition.
This decision was made after reviewing and observing how the disorder would affect a service member in training as well as the highly active lifestyle they are required to live.
The change was made with other medical factors that barred many people from joining the Armed Forces.
Asthma Broken Down
Asthma is essentially a disorder in which a person experiences trouble breathing due to the inside of your airways which carry air in and out of your lungs. (Source: Lung.org)
The inside of your airways become sensitive to many different things and close which cause you to wheeze and cough.
There are some things that can cause Asthma such as allergies, environments and genetics. This is the reason why some people that have asthma get really sick in the spring time when pollen is in the air.
They are experiencing an allergic reaction to the pollen which causes their airways to close. In light of environments, really dry areas such as the desert where many people are deployed to may cause individuals to experience major problems breathing.
Lastly, you may get asthma through genetics. Some people are in situations where all of their families experience asthma and there is nothing that can be done other than treatments after diagnosis.
The common triggers for asthma are actually things that are found often in military environments.
Dust, smoke, exhaust and industrial emissions are all found in military environments. On top of the allergens in the average military environment, exercise and fear can also trigger an asthma attack.
There is currently no cure for Asthma.
Moving Forward With Asthma
As a safety measure, members that are allowed in under the new policy for enlisting with Asthma are not allowed to take on combat jobs or jobs that would require them to be subject to respiratory issues.
There are many jobs in the military in which you are not required to be out in the elements.
Some of the jobs may be in the information technology fields, medical fields and administrative fields.
This allows members with medical issues to still serve their country while keeping their physical health in order.
The Armed Forces previously restricted entering due to Asthma because of the requirements of the training environment in relation to fitness and physical health.
Also, some jobs in the Armed Forces require members to be deployed in areas where the environment may not be conducive to breathing issues.
Moreover, in order to treat Asthma, individuals may be required to take a medication or carry around a steroid inhaler which may not always be available to them.
Applicants that have been diagnosed and experience asthmatic issues after they turn 13 can still attempt to enlist as long as they have all of their medical documentation, are in good cardiovascular shape and possibly be subject to a pulmonary function test in order for a waiver to be considered.
Once accepted in the military, the asthma condition can be better treated with free healthcare for service members.
This is the same for if an individual who entered the military and did not have asthma but later was diagnosed with it.
Their condition is treated with the proper medications and they may not be required to leave the Armed Forces depending on the state of their condition.
When deciding to join the military many people assume that anyone can get in.
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While the Armed Forces is extremely selective in some cases, there have been changes in policy that are allowing more medical disorders to be waivered thus opening more doors for individuals with medical history.
While the military wants higher enlistment numbers, the policy makers have to ensure they are letting the right people in and maintaining the same quality of force.
When evaluating practices and disqualifying factors, medical issues are in some situations easier to get approved versus financial or criminal issue.
Also, financial and criminal factors are the result of something the individual did versus medical issues can result from genetics or environment in which the applicant had no control over.
If you are someone you know wants to enlist in the Armed Forces and were denied before 2014 due to asthma related issues, you should try again now more informed of the current enlistment situation.