An unannounced policy enacted in August now allows people with a history of "self-mutilation," bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse to seek waivers to join the Army.
The decision to open the Army's ranks to those with certain mental health issues, uncovered in documents obtained by USA Today, comes as the military service tries to recruit 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. The Army issued a ban on waivers for such individuals in 2009 amid an epidemic of suicides among troops.
Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman, said the move to expand waivers for mental health is possible because the Army now has more medical information about each potential recruit.
"The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available," Taylor told USA Today. "These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories."
The screening process for recruits requires a detailed statement from the applicant, medical records, photos submitted by the recruiter, and a psychiatric evaluation.
"For all waivers," one memo states, "the burden of proof is on the applicant to provide a clear and meritorious case for why a waiver should be considered."
The Army did not respond to a request for information on how many waivers had been issued for mental health issues.
Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army in 2010, spoke to USA Today and said the decision to rescind the ban on some mental health-related waivers is in part due to recruiting difficulties.
"You're widening your pool of applicants," she said, adding that individuals with a history of mental health problems are more likely to have those issues resurface than those who do not.
"It is a red flag," she said. "The question is, how much of a red flag is it?"
USA Today noted that to meet last year's goal of recruiting 69,000 new soldiers, the Army increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.