Joining the military is not easy. There are many hurdles a hopeful recruit has to cross to enlist and serve. One of those steps is medical screening. Often this is not difficult, but what if the recruit suffers from diabetes?
Since almost 10% of the United States population has some form of diabetes or pre-diabetes, this has become an important topic. Even without any legal, personal, or medical issues, it is difficult to enlist in the military. If a recruit happens to have prediabetes, Type 1, or Type 2 diabetes, it will be even more difficult (although not impossible).
Why is it hard to serve with diabetes?
While it seems discriminatory for someone with prediabetes or diabetes to be told that they cannot serve in the military, there are some factors to take into account. There are specific jobs that a person with diabetes may not be safe doing. Those jobs include positions such as piloting a plane, serving on a submarine or being in a direct combat role. This is especially true for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes on insulin.
Although there are branches of the military that have people with diabetes serving, many are not in combat-related positions. The concern is that if military personnel have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, they will not be able to make it through tough periods of fighting and burden those they serve alongside.
How can people with diabetes serve in the military?
Diabetes will impact a military career. Service members diagnosed with diabetes will be evaluated by a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB)/Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to determine if they are “fit for duty.”
Their ruling will be based on the individuals’ ability to be employed within that career field/MOS as well as their ability to care for and manage their diabetes. Along with the previous information they will take into account the individuals’ leadership recommendation for retention.
Diabetes will limit options for deployment. Individuals with diabetes may or may not be eligible to deploy. There are service-specific requirements that must be met before clearance to proceed to a combat zone or other austere environments. A complete medical evaluation will be conducted before deployment for individuals requiring any medication used to treat diabetes.
Often individuals will need to submit waivers to physicians and officers. They will go through medical testing to assess fitness. They may be placed in a non-combat related position, such as the mess hall or an office. However, some service personnel may be allowed to remain in their current occupation if that job is approved for a person with diabetes to hold.
Is it better to have Type 1 or Type 2?
While there may be some individuals that serve with prediabetes or Type 1 diabetes, it is Type 2 that is the biggest issue. Since Type 2 is progressive, service members may begin to require more insulin, and their diabetes may become uncontrollable which could lead to a discharge. The same would be true of a person with Type 1 diabetes, as managing diabetes is even more difficult in the military.
Depending on the branch and if you are active duty, National Guard or Reserves, if you are already in, you have a better chance of remaining in service. Often the review boards are looking at how the individual with affect their unit in peace and combat. The most significant factor is whether or not you use insulin, although again it is usually on a case-by-case basis. If a service member is a Type 1 or Type 2 diabetic and is taking insulin, they may be allowed to continue serving in a branch of the military.
While it is more difficult to enlist or serve while having prediabetes, Type 1, or Type 2 diabetes it is not impossible. If military service is vital to the individual, they can overcome anything.