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Can a person have BPD and enlist in the military?

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Updated: October 3, 2007

Question: Can a person have BPD and enlist in the military?

Is it possible for a person previously diagnosed with a personality disorder to join the military?

Answer:

The military screens applicants for many things, to ensure a fitness for duty. One of these is mental stability.

Having a history of a diagnosis of borderline, or any other personality disorder, does not necessary preclude a person from eligibility. However, such a diagnosis may present the possibility that someone would be found unfit for service, due to “security concerns.”

According to the current Department of Defense guidelines, a history of “emotional, mental, and personality disorders can cause a significant deficit in an individual's psychological, social and occupational functioning.”

The military does not appear to automatically disqualify someone based on specific diagnoses, instead focusing on the general functioning of a person. Security clearance guidelines list the following issues that could cause a security concern:

  • An opinion by a credentialed mental health professional that the individual has a condition or treatment that may indicate a defect in judgment, reliability, or stability.
  • Failure to take a prescribed medication to counter a condition described above.
  • A pattern of high-risk, irresponsible, aggressive, anti-social or emotionally unstable behavior.
  • Information that suggests that the individual's current behavior indicates a defect in his or her judgment or reliability.

It is possible that a person’s previous diagnosis, including personality disorder, may no longer present an issue for the individual. Recruiters look at current findings that can impact the validity of a previous diagnosis in terms of present functioning. In other words, they look for “conditions that could mitigate a security concern.” These may include:

  • No indication of a current problem
  • Recent opinion by a credentialed mental health professional that an individual's previous emotional, mental, or personality disorder is under control and has a low probability of recurrence
  • Past emotional instability was a temporary condition (such as one caused by a death, illness, or marital break-up), and the individual is no longer emotionally unstable.

It is important to note that the military generally considers a personality disorder to be of an enduring nature. It may determine that any negative effects of personality disorder that become evident after active service are “pre-existing” and therefore impact eligibility for other medical and disability payments, even in the event of other injury or service.

It is generally thought that those with an undiscovered personality disorder will not be able to successfully make it through boot camp, and therefore would not be permitted to continue further into military service. Those discharged due to a personality disorder are not eligible for related medical or disability benefits, and may have to pay back any signing bonuses.

Sources
"Requirements: Emotional, Mental, and Personality Disorders." Army.com. Accessed: October 2007.
Defense Security Service

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