Can You Join the Military With Tourette’s? What You Need To Know
The military is a pretty diverse space, with people from all walks of life joining together to serve our country. What’s not so common among troops, however, is those with disabilities. That’s why questions such as, “Can you join the military with Tourette’s?” are so common. The answer isn’t exactly a hard no, but it’s also not always a yes. Let’s explain.
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What To Ask Before “Can You Join the Military With Tourette’s?”
Before diving into the answer to “Can you join the military with Tourette’s?” it’s important to understand what Tourette’s is and how it affects those who have it.
Tourette’s Syndrome is a condition that affects the nervous system and causes people to have what are colloquially called “tics.” These tics may involve blurting out unwanted sounds or words, repetitive movements, or even self-harming behaviors that the individual with Tourette’s cannot control.
As the CDC puts it, having Tourette’s Syndrome is pretty similar to hiccups for a neurotypical person or anyone who doesn’t have the condition. Even if you don’t want to keep hiccuping, even if you’re doing it in an embarrassing situation or it gets painful after a while, you can’t stop your body from continuing (no matter how badly someone scares you or how long you hold your breath).
As you might imagine, unwanted jerks, motions, or movements aren’t exactly ideal for troops in the military. But the military doesn’t just ban people outright for Tourette’s.
Rules for Joining the Military With Tourette’s Syndrome
There’s no jurisdiction that states, “No one with Tourette’s can join the military.” However, there are many factors that may prohibit someone with Tourette’s from being able to pass through the recruitment process. One of the biggest factors is medication.
According to the Tourette Association of America (TAA), Tourette Syndrome treatments often include drugs to manage or suppress excessive tics. The majority of Tourette-treating drugs are considered psychiatric medications. In the military, a drug test is a standard part of the recruitment and entrance process, and no one who has taken drugs, including psychiatric medications of any sort, will be able to pass through to become a troop.
This rule makes it incredibly hard for anyone suffering from moderate to severe Tourette’s to join the military successfully. For someone with a mild case who’s not been medicated recently or who hasn’t exhibited symptoms in a while, the process may be a bit easier.
Is Tourette’s a Disability?
Is Tourette’s considered a disability? Yes. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tourette’s Syndrome is a covered disability. While this does entitle those with the disability to certain legal protections, due to the nature of the military, those protections aren’t applied in exactly the same way.
If it’s proven that your disability is too severe and may hinder the safety and efficiency of military work, you can legally be denied a position in the military. The same goes for if you’ve been medicated and cannot pass the required drug screening.
Other Disability-Related Questions
When it comes to Tourette’s, people can’t help their tics. They can, however, suppress them for short periods of time. However, certain situations or mental states can cause an increase in these unwanted tics.
For example, many people with Tourette’s find that an increased level of stress is usually accompanied by more tics than normal. In the military, stress is a normal part of the job for most occupations, making it more dangerous for people with Tourette’s to work in the military as opposed to someone without it.
This was seen in an incident in 2004 when a Coast Guardsman was relieved from service after stress made his tics much worse than they were before.
This may not be the case for everyone, but if you’re unsure of exactly how stress affects your tics, going straight into military service might not be the best way to test it out.
Joining the Military With Tourette’s Isn’t Impossible
Though incredibly uncommon, “Can someone with Tourette’s join the military?” can sometimes yield an answer in the affirmative.
TAA shares at least one example of someone who had Tourette’s Syndrome and went on to have a very successful military career. His name is Kelly Hannum, and he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer.
In an article for DVIDS, Hannum stated, “Tourette’s Syndrome is just a part of me, it doesn’t define me. Tourette Syndrome isn’t something I can easily hide, so I decided my best strategy was to be open about it. By being open and explaining to people ahead of time what they might see, they are more likely to ask me questions rather than try to speculate about my condition.”
He went on to explain that there were good and bad days during his service, like anyone else, but the bad days didn’t dissuade him from doing his duty and helping others.
Give It a Shot, But Don’t Expect Too Much
For those aspiring service members with more severe Tourette’s, we’d say that being able to join the military is highly unlikely. But if you’re someone with a more mild case or you’ve not experienced tics or been medicated for them in a while, there’s still a small chance that you’ll be able to experience the fulfilling military career you dream of.
Though “Can you join the military with Tourette’s?” is usually a no, there are tons of other ways you can help serve your country, including by volunteering for military and Veteran organizations and staying informed on matters that affect the military the most and advocating for change where it’s needed.
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