Military Service and Diabetes

There are few things more disappointing to a potential military recruit than to find out that they have diabetes and cannot sign up.

As one can imagine, military members need to be strong, healthy and free from any disability that would require attention while in the field. The equipment they carry into battle cannot include needles and insulin.

Potential Recruits

When someone makes the decision to join a branch of the military, they are subject to a battery of tests for aptitude, intelligence and strength. They also receive a full medical evaluation. It is here that recruits sometimes learn for the first time that they are pre-diabetic or diabetic.

While a diagnosis of diabetes requiring treatment is an automatic disqualification from enlistment, being pre-diabetic does not automatically rule out service in the military. Doctors will consult with the potential recruit to educate them on the changes they need to make in order to reduce their risk. They might ask them to institute their changes for a period of time - six months or a year - and then come back and re-apply. Assuming that they have improved their A1c numbers and are not in need of treatment, they could then be eligible to enlist.

Some may feel the exclusion of persons with diabetes from service in the military is discriminatory. Unfortunately, federal anti-discrimination laws don't apply to the military.

Military Personnel

For those already serving in the military who receive a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes, separation from the service is not necessarily a given. Those service members who cannot achieve and maintain an A1c of 7.0 or below are referred to a medical evaluation board, which assesses their overall fitness and makes recommendations about further care.

The military takes very seriously the management of weight standards among its members. Along with the increased risk of developing diabetes, there are risks for other weight-related disorders, such as high blood pressure, high lipids levels and cardiovascular disease.

Not wanting to lose the investment in training they have made in each individual member, they use a variety of incentives to encourage maintenance of a healthy weight, including reconditioning programs. Service members who participate in these programs but fail to achieve the goals set for them may be found ineligible for re-enlistment, promotions, specialized training and transfer to other areas.

Serving with Diabetes

There have been publicized instances of military personnel serving in combat zones after a diagnosis of diabetes. Generally, these service members have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after entering the service. In 2007 the Army published a 150-page checklist that details when those who have diabetes can be deployed. It boils down to those service members who maintain "good control" over their diabetes may be considered for deployment.

There are also "waivers" available, on a limited basis, for those who have been diagnosed and want to continue to serve. However, these are not easy to get, and there is no guarantee they would be awarded.

Sources: Diabetes Mine and Diabetes Self Management

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