WANTED: Troops. Junkies OK. Teen issues not accepted

Despite my own mixed feelings about the ongoing war and British military presence in the Middle East, I’m still essentially of the belief that our Armed Forces do a good and thankless job. Their efforts in Northern Ireland are notable, as is the work they carry out ‘behind the scenes’, and which isn’t splashed across tabloids or left-wing media with sensationalised headlines.

And despite a portrayal to the contrary, admittance to the forces – the army in particular – requires peak physical performance and a colossal strength of mind, and that’s just for ‘entry level’ privates – as privates ascend the ranks so do the difficulties and demands of their mental requirements.

In short, it’s not an easy career path, nor one that can be pursued lightly, and those that undertake it do so with a great deal of determination and drive. So you’d think, as Gordon Brown hoovers through the country’s available troops, that they’d be keen to take in as many new, eager recruits as possible. Imagine my shock, then, when I learnt that a friend of mine – who has been training diligently for months, who believes fervently in the force’s ethos and, in their own words ‘can’t imagine ever doing anything else’ – has been flat-out rejected from the army (and the RAF, Navy and Marines) because of a medical records ‘blip’ from eight years ago. Eight years ago, when this person was 14. A teenager. The ‘blip’ in question concerns a short period of self-harming.

One in ten teenagers self-harm at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s so widely acknowledged that it’s barely even a taboo topic anymore. And yet my friend’s career aspirations have been smashed because of this, an action they undertook when they weren’t even legally responsible for their own actions. Of course, if it hadn’t appeared on their medical records then there would be no issue. No doubt scores of new privates have experienced the same, but in a cruel twist, didn’t seek help at the time as my friend did, and as such are free to pursue their ambitions.

The real kicker, though, is that while my friend has been rejected on the basis of a common teenage issue, the army are willing to consider individuals with a history of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence and theft – and within an adult capacity too. Individuals whose histories are marked by these issues will be considered on a case by case basis. Not so for my friend, who spent much of today on the phone to a disinterested nasal woman who ‘would love to help but rules are rules.’

So here we have an individual who is willing to put their life on the line to protect mine, and yours, and to really make a difference while the rest of us are content to sit on our backsides and stare at a computer screen all day, but computer says no.

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9 thoughts on “WANTED: Troops. Junkies OK. Teen issues not accepted

  1. That’s such bullshit. As long as each individual can pass a psychological test *now* that ensures they’re not open to emotional breakdowns and mentally tough enough once they’re enlisted, it shouldn’t matter what the hell happened when they were teenagers. I hope your friend can find some way around this. It’s ridiculous.

    I am, however, very much ‘for’ the armed forces helping recovering drug/drink addicts and convicts out too. It’ll be the most disciplined programme some of these people will ever face and that’s exactly what they need. Drug addicts that enter rehab only have a 15% chance of fully recovering once they’ve left. Most of them go back to using because they fall back into an old routine and don’t have the support and stability they need. The same goes for those who commit crime (I’m talking theft, etc. Not murder). A lot of it is because of their situation and backgrounds.

    At least the Armed Forces will give these people a good structural ass whooping.

    It’s just a shame that they’re focusing so much on the rehabilitation side, they’re refusing to consider those individuals who are dedicated and willing right from the get-go, like your friend.

  2. It does seem hard that this should be treated more harshly than, eg. ex-alcoholism. I’m guessing that it may be a fear-of-being-sued issue. The army gives people weapons training, and to that end access to all manner of weapons, knives included. Suppose a former self-harmer used this access to weapons to harm him or herself: is it possible a sharp lawyer could say that having known about this person’s history, the army were liable for any harm done?

  3. Redcoat says:

    As an ex recruiter for the reserve forces, I have seen this situation first hand more times than I would have liked.
    I would however like to point out that it is very difficult for the armed forces to decide on the suitability of potential recruits and unfortunatly an episode of mental illness (an unfortunate term but this is the catagory that self harm falls into), like many other conditions, heart mumours, asthma etc. automatically raise a flag. The MoD has to then make a decision as to wether to investigate further, heart mumours and asthma as easily, cheaply and objectivly measurable. Mental illness is not.
    With reference to ex offenders the army is bound by the rehabilitation of offenders act which essentially states how much time after a conviction a potential recruit must wait, in reality violent offenders would have to wait so long that their age may become a barrier to entry.
    I realise that all of this is no comfort to your friend.
    I would also like to point out that your blog post most admirably follow’s the recent trends of UK journalism by being able to claim your personal support for troops while at the same time criticising the organisation as a whole. As much as even soldiers themselves would hate to admit it, they would be unable to perform as they do without the organisation behind them. I look forward to following your career in journalism, your writing seems excellent, but perhaps a little more research and consideration wouldn’t go amiss

    1. Hi Redcoat.

      I appreciate your concern regarding my typically journalistic stance, but do you not agree that a body such as the media can in fact help the forces, and its troops, by bringing to light issues and injustices? Look at the frenzy that surrounded the lack of equipment in Iraq – I doubt very much that had that not been brought to the public fore, Gordon Brown may well have skimmed over the issue in his considerations for deploying further troops. Similarly, look at Deepcut. If bullying is a prevalent problem for new recruits then the media exposure of it, and then subsequent investigation and potential reconciliation of the issue can only be a good thing, surely? I wholly believe it’s possible to critique the army while maintaining an underlying support – by exposing cracks the forces can work to remedy them.

      I also appreciate the murky waters surrounding a topic as fragile as mental health, but the upshot of this particular scenario is that my friend is essentially being penalised for something that happened a very long time ago, while they were a child. There has been no application of individual case assessment – they have simply been rejected without further consideration. I’m sure you can appreciate the frustration this causes when offenders are protected by acts which ultimately serve to negate their previous issues – many of which occurred while they were responsible adults, and not confused children.

      Furthermore, I myself come from a military background and am more than familiar with the workings of the forces. In many respects it’s because of this that my friend’s situation troubles me so greatly. I feel like the army, bound by jurisdiction and bureaucracy like this, is only serving to weaken itself – and that’s not something I’d ever want to see.

      1. Redcoat says:

        Hi, me again.
        I realise that by posting again I run the risk of turning this into the kind of flame war Internet discussion that all sensible, right minded people hate. In order to attempt to avoid this (and because I’m feeling lazy!) I’ll be as brief as possible, please don’t mistake my brevity for rudeness.

        Let’s not be puritanical about this, bringing to light injustices is not the medias objective, selling copy is. Frenzy is an appropriate word to use, temporary madness or delirium seems to sum up both examples that you highlighted. Deepcut was indeed a very sad affair and I have no first hand knowledge, other than having worked as training staff myself so wouldn’t wish to comment on the specifics. As for levels of equipment I can’t help feeling that you are mixing army policies with budgetry restraints, where was the media “frenzy” during the declines of funding and Strategic defence reviews? I was in Iraq in 2003 prior to the invasion (or liberation depending on your point of view) and was sent mountains of food by friends and family who believed the press and consequentially thought we were all starving in the desert! Much to our amusment as this was completely untrue, there was plenty of food (it was rubbish, but there was plenty. I never said the army was perfect!).

        You appear to have misunderstood my point, so I will be blunt. Mental health assesments are expensive. The army does not have a shortage of recruits. I feel for your friend but these are the facts, it is not worth the armies time and money putting potential recruits through expensive assesments who may fail. Imagine the army paying for your friend to be put through an assesment (or potentially worse, the NHS having to do it) having them pass and drop out of training 6 weeks in for any reason. Now imagine the cost of that happening 100 times a year, times that by the 3 services. How much would that cost?

        The rehabilitation of offenders act is dependent on the conviction given to the offender by the courts. It is not the forces fault, save your scorn for the courts.

        Finally (sorry I said I would be brief!) and I’m sorry if this upsets you, unless your military background includes YOU serving in the forces or reserves then I’m sorry your claim to being more than familiar with the workings of the forces doesn’t stand up even people that have served 22 years can leave the army with no knowledge of the recruitment process.

        I realise that the majority of what I have just written wasn’t as brief as I promised, to make up for this I won’t post again 🙂 sorry for scrawling all over your blog.

  4. A family friend joined the army after dealing drugs from his (very standard white collar middle class) parents’ house, chalking up an impressive criminal record which included many counts of possession, possession with intent to supply, midnight drug raids on his parents house and (get this) beating up an ex employer with a baseball bat. He was welcomed in to the army with open arms – although he was chucked out a year later for drug use whilst on duty.

    My ex boyfriend had spent his entire life training to be a pilot. He’d been in the air cadets as a teen, had his private pilot’s licence and was in the university RAF air squadron all the way through uni. He was rejected from the RAF because he had asthma when he was 10 which required him to be on steroids for a couple of months as treatment. They even rejected him after he underwent a test in hospital where they pack you full of things that could give you an asthma attack and make you run on a treadmill for a hour. He was given a clean bill of health by the hospital but the RAF didn’t want to know. He’s now a commercial pilot, but why are the armed forces turning their back on such dedicated applicants and welcoming in the scrotes with such open arms?

  5. I remember, many years ago, being advised NOT to actively seek help for my depression because (at the time) I was unsure what I wanted to do as a career, and by visiting the doctor I would be potentially limiting my options later in life. It’s inspiring to know that, much like my Jobcentre adviser who tried talking me out of going for a promotion (because it would affect my benefits, and my income each month would be lower), their appalling advice was absolutely correct.

    And just to throw some fuel on the left-wing media fire: sometimes a high pain threshold and no fear of death can be a damn necessary thing in a war.

    1. A high pain threshold maybe, Daniel, but a soldier who doesn’t fear death is a bloody menace to his comrades, I should think, especially if he happens to be an officer. It is his business to avoid death, for himself and his men. At least so Wellington thought – “the soldier who is never afraid is no soldier”.

  6. @Redcoat: I’ll be brief. It’s estimated that between one in three and one in four people (government and NHS figures) will suffer from a period of mental illness at some point in their lives. I’m sure that a percentage of those recruits who get through the process are part of these. The question is, would it be better to have people serving who had the sense and maturity to get help and dealt with their problems and therefore have a medical record of this, or people who haven’t?

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