New memo confirms: COVID-19 diagnosis a permanent disqualifier for military service
As the nation grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the military community and those wishing to join are feeling the effects. A recent memo released by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) states that recruit candidates with a diagnosis of COVID-19 -- even after a full recovery -- will now be permanently disqualified from joining the military.
"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," the memo reads.
Military Times reached out to a Pentagon spokesperson to verify the accuracy of the MEPCOM memo which began circulating on Twitter on May 4, 2020. The Times confirmed the memo was accurate. This disqualifier for serving impacts not just new potential recruits walking in but also those already in the processing phase. According to the memo, once a potential recruit tests positive they must wait 28 days to return to MEPS. Upon return, they will be labeled "permanently disqualified."
The military does allow medical waivers in certain cases where there is a disqualifier, so initially the assumption was that this would be the case with COVID-19, as well. This appears to not be the case. With COVID-19 being a new virus and little known about the after-effects of surviving it, there is no current guidance in place to inform those who'd be reviewing potential waivers.
When Military Times asked the Pentagon spokesperson why COVID-19 was being labeled a permanently disqualifying diagnosis when other similar acute illnesses weren't, they declined to answer the question.
Medical professionals are currently racing to research this virus and compile data to understand it. Research institutes all across the world are doing the same to develop a vaccine. But without reliable information on long-term effects or the potential to have a relapse with the virus, too much is unknown. It may be with this in mind that the DOD is implementing this disqualifier, with the potential for it to be lifted later.
In the meantime, survivors of COVID-19 will be turned away and disqualified from serving this country. The Pentagon has not issued any guidance for active duty service members who contract the virus and recover.