Sen. John McCain said Tuesday his Armed Services Committee is seeking answers from the Army over a media report that a new policy provides waivers to recruits with a history of self-mutilation and other mental health issues.
The committee could again hold up Pentagon nominees unless the Army provides information such as the number of waivers, if any, granted under the policy enacted in August and could also look at legislation to block the relaxed recruitment guidelines, said McCain, R-Ariz., who is the committee chairman.
“We should have been told about this before it showed up in a USA Today article,” he said. “To just announce that we’re changing the criteria for requiring people to serve in military is not something that this committee finds acceptable. So, we may have to act legislatively to prevent you from doing it.”
People with histories of self-mutilation, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army as it attempts to meet a goal of recruiting 80,000 soldiers over the coming year, USA Today reported on Sunday.
The Army denied it changed medical entry standards, calling the report inaccurate and its policy misinterpreted, according to the Army Times newspaper.
“Someone who self mutilates, I don’t quite understand the eligibility there,” said McCain, and the long-term costs to the service could be “very, very high.”
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the Armed Services ranking member, said he concurs with McCain’s concerns and critique.
“We cannot sacrifice quality for quantity it’s that simple. We have to do both,” Reed said.
The comments came during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday to consider Pentagon nominees, including James McPherson to be Army general counsel.
McPherson told McCain he found the USA Today report to be “troubling” and that he would question the policy as one of his first acts if confirmed by the Senate.
“I believe that history has shown that when you bring in individuals through a waiver process there is a risk involved in that, a risk that they might not turn out to be exemplary soldiers,” McPherson said.