A Pentagon study revealed that 77 percent of young Americans do not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, drug use, or mental or physical problems.
“When considering youth disqualified for one reason alone, the most prevalent disqualification rates are overweight (11 percent), drug and alcohol abuse (8 percent), and medical/physical health (7 percent),” the Pentagon’s 2020 Qualified Military Available Study of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 read.
Several key findings were noted in the summary of the report. For example, most ineligible youth (44 percent) are disqualified for multiple reasons rather than in only one area.
Among those ineligible for only one reason, being overweight was the highest disqualification, at 11 percent. Drug use (8 percent), medical/physical only (7 percent) and mental health only (4 percent) were the other leading categories found in the study.
The largest increases in disqualification estimates observed between 2013 and 2020 were for mental health and overweight conditions. Another key finding was that the proportion of youth both eligible and not currently enrolled in college was only 12 percent.
The concern over the shrinking pool of potential recruits has grown in recent years. Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Department of Defense spokesman, stated that the study confirmed the challenges of recruiting new military members.
“There are many factors that we are navigating through, such as the fact that youth are more disconnected and disinterested compared to previous generations,” Dietz said, according to Military.com. “The declining veteran population and shrinking military footprint has contributed to a market that is unfamiliar with military service resulting in an overreliance of military stereotypes.”
In September, Pentagon leaders sounded the alarm on its recruiting challenges.
“The Department anticipates we will collectively miss our recruiting mission despite accessing more than 170,000 remarkable young men and women” in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Stephanie Miller, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, told the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “This constitutes an unprecedented mission gap and is reason for concern.”
Among the concerns expressed by lawmakers is the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that was only recently ended for the U.S. military. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) pushed for the end of the mandate in her support of December’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“Our country must never fall behind in providing for a strong national defense, which is why I am proud to bring an end to the Biden Administration’s authoritarian COVID vaccine mandate on our servicemen and women that has weakened our military recruitment and impaired our military ranks,” she said in a statement.