I read an article last year about a young Israeli man with Cerebral Palsy who, though his own self-advocacy, was permitted to serve as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. In Israel, military service is compulsory for all but a few very specific groups, including people with significant disabilities. This young man may or may not have started a trend towards broader acceptance of disabled people into the Israeli military, but he certainly demonstrated what should be obvious … that in the modern military, there are plenty of duties that don’t require physical fitness, that disabled people are perfectly qualified to do.
That’s one reason why news of this House Bill caught my eye. Another is remembering a few months in my senior year in high school when I got some phone calls from branches of the military asking if I was interested in enlisting and pursuing certain career paths, based on my test scores. I had no desire to serve in the military, but it rankles just a little bit that the joke then was what a “mistake” they made, not realizing I was disabled.
And yet, I’m not sure exactly what the rules are in the U.S. military regarding disability and active service. As I also mentioned this Memorial Day, British fighter pilot Douglas Bader lost both legs before WWII. Initially, he was refused re-enlistment in the Royal Air Force, due to his disability, even though he had worked out adaptive techniques so he could fly again. Later, after start of the war and in the middle of the Blitz, he was allowed to re-enlist and fly as an active combat pilot.
Is there a difference between how the U.S. military regards serving with a disability acquired after passing Basic Training, and pre-existing disability? Can a soldier continue to service in some capacity after the onset of a disability?
If the military allows some service after a disability, how do they decide who can and who must be discharged? How much depends on the nature of the disability and how much on the nature of the work? Do they only allow non-combat work?
Any feedback from people more familiar with military rules and procedures would be greatly appreciated.
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