The Department of Defense is instating a new policy that could lead thousands of service members, who are deemed unfit to deploy overseas, to lose their jobs, according to a U.S. defense official.
Robert Wilkie, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told senators this week that on any given day, about 13 to 14 percent of the force — about 286,000 service members — is medically unable to deploy. The defense official estimated that the total number of non-deployable service members could be as high as 300,000.
An individual can be designated non-deployable for a number of reasons, like traumatic brain injury, out of date vaccines, failing fitness tests, mental health concerns and pregnancy. Other examples include neck or back pain that prohibits the service member from wearing a helmet and body armor.
Last July, Secretary of Defense James Mattis directed the office responsible for personnel and readiness to identify changes to military personnel policies that will “ensure our military is ready to fight today and in the future.”
According to a Pentagon memo released Thursday, the new policy states that any service member (with the exception of pregnant or post-partum individuals) who has been non-deployable for more than 12 consecutive months will be processed for administrative separation (the process to leave the military) or referred to the Disability Evaluation System. The services have until Oct. 1 to begin the mandatory processing.
Only the secretaries who head the military services will be authorized to grant waivers that would keep a service member on the payroll, although the secretary will be allowed to delegate that authority to someone else within the service’s headquarters.
Command Sergeant Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joe Dunford, told Military Times that nearly 100,000 service members are non-deployable for easily fixable administrative issues, like not having the required dental exams, while about 116,000 are due to short or long-term injuries. About 20,000 are non-deployable due to pregnancy.
“Because the more of these people we have that can’t deploy and do their mission, that means somebody else has to pull their weight for them, or we have a void or a degradation in capability, because we don’t have the requisite people,” Troxell said.
Secretary of the Army Mark Esper told reporters on Thursday that the new policy will help address readiness levels in the Army.
He said that having more non-deployable soldiers within his ranks means that those who are able to deploy have to leave their families and serve overseas much more often — straining the force.
“The way I described it in our conversation, as if Mr. Bezos and Amazon walked into Christmas week and 14 percent of his workforce could not perform their duties and he would no longer be the largest company in the world,” Wilkie told Congress.
“We have to ensure given the climate that this country faces, that everyone who signs up can be deployed to any corner of the world at any given time and that is the reason for the change in policy,” he added.