WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has revised its policy for recruits who must get waivers for past bad behavior, but officials stopped short of eliminating waiver requirements for petty crimes.
After a lengthy review, the Defense Department bowed to insistence from the services that they be allowed to set their own guidelines for what offenses trigger a waiver. Instead, officials say the Pentagon will unveil a policy Wednesday that improves and simplifies the reporting process, grouping the waivers into four broad categories.
Several officials spoke about the new policy on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been released.
Last year, under the continuing strain of Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of recruits with waivers for bad conduct increased. Senior military leaders at the time suggested the department might be able to eliminate waiver requirements for some less serious crimes or lay out guidelines for what offenses demand a waiver.
After months of discussion with the military services, however, that did not pan out.
Marine officials, in particular, said they were reluctant to relax their standards for requiring waivers.
Instead, officials have now decided to create four waiver categories for major misconduct, misconduct, traffic offenses and non-traffic offenses. Under the new policy, each branch of the armed forces will set its own guidelines on what behavior requires a waiver, as long as it can assign each offense to one of the four categories.
Marines are known for their more strict waiver requirements, which result in a higher percentage of their recruits needing a special exemption to join. The most glaring difference is that one-time marijuana use warrants a waiver.
Thus, roughly half of Marine recruits require waivers to join, largely because more than a third of recruits require a waiver for previous drug use.
In pressing for waiver changes last year, military leaders said they wanted to streamline what can be a complicated, lengthy and cumbersome waiver process. The new policy — in development for nearly two years — will allow the Pentagon to better compare how recruits with certain waivers perform.
Last year, Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said a review of the process was necessary to make the military services more consistent. At the time, he noted that many recruits who were arrested as juveniles for what can be considered youthful indiscretions — minor fights or theft — are forced to get waivers even if they were never convicted of the crime.
"There are really anomalies out there," he said.
Overall, about three in every 10 military recruits must get a waiver, according to Pentagon statistics. About two-thirds of those approved in recent years have been for some type of criminal behavior — mostly minor infractions.
In addition to waivers for bad behavior, recruits also may need waivers for a host of reasons including health problems such as asthma or flat feet, low aptitude scores — and even for some tattoos.
Getting a waiver approved requires paperwork and at times lengthy investigation, from detailed health screenings and doctor referrals to testimonials from neighbors and relatives about past bad behavior. Depending on the seriousness, the final decision can be made by senior recruiting officers or higher-ranking commanders.
The policy changes come as the Army on Tuesday celebrated the 35th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, and as the services continue to meet their recruiting goals on a fairly consistent basis.
Standing in the sun-drenched Pentagon courtyard Tuesday, Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, swore in 15 new recruits and re-enlisted 16 soldiers for another tour.
He said later that any changes in the waiver policy will make the process better and "it will allow us to move a little quicker."
Casey, who joined the Army 38 years ago, entered when the draft was still in effect. These days, he said recruits who volunteer to enlist often face questions about why they are joining.
As he looked out at the soldiers — most of whom can expect to see combat in Iraq or Afghanistan — he said they believe in their ideals and believe "they can make a difference."