Joining the military, regardless of branch of service, is often a long and complicated process. Enlisting is generally somewhat easier than commissioning due to a shorter application process (most officers must submit an application to an Officer Selection Board). However, all military members must go through the medical examination process at MEPS, the Military Entrance Processing Station, regardless of whether they will be enlisted or commissioned officers. This process can trip up any of us.
Today’s reader question is from a recent high school graduate who was disqualified from the application process because of a history of asthma. He wants to know if it is possible to get a waiver to join the Air Force if you have asthma, and if so, what steps need to be taken.
Hello Sir, I want to join the Air National Guard while attending college. My ultimate goal is to become an Air Force Officer. I started the application process in July. I made great scores on the ASVAB, passed the physical exam, and even bought a book to familiarize myself with the AFOQT.
Unfortunately, I had asthma when he was younger and I was disqualified at MEPS. They referred me to a chest doctor who determined that I still have mild asthma but he did not see that as a deterrent for joining the military. But the MEPS doctor told me that asthma is a disqualifying factor, and had me sign a medical waiver to prevent me from claiming disability later (if I were able to join the Air Force). The recruiter then sent a waiver request to the National Guard Bureau and the Air Guard Surgeon General disqualified me. Needless to say, I’m crushed!
I was hoping to take the Oath of Enlistment and ship out to Basic Training so I could finish tach school in time to start college next year. Is there anything else I can do or is my journey over?
Can You Join the Military with Asthma?
This is a great question, and somewhat common. Many people experience asthma in their youth, and eventually grow out of it. The military makes concessions for applicants who had asthma in their youth, and will often (though not always) grant waivers if the asthmatic conditions ceased or no longer required medication after a certain age.
But the military is less forgiving when the applicant still has asthma or requires any asthma medications. Why? To put it in simple terms: asthma can place the individual and others in harm’s way if the individual is deployed to certain environments or is exposed to certain chemicals or conditions.
Military members frequently work around austere environments, in hot, dry, and dusty conditions; around various solvents, chemicals, and exhaust; in hot and humid conditions; and in other environments that can cause an asthma episode to flare up. Having an asthma attack at the wrong time can place the individual, and in some cases, the entire unit in danger.
Think, for a moment, about someone having an asthma attack when they are the only qualified individual for a certain job. Not only does that unit lose the qualified person, but someone else is pulled from their job to assist the other person. This can become magnified if the unit is out in the field, in the line of fire, if there are no medical facilities nearby, etc. I think you get the point.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone who had a history of asthma will have an episode and cause issues. But this is what the military is trying to prevent before it becomes an issue. At its core, MEPS is one of the central points of control for Risk Mitigation when it comes to military personnel. Recruiters are also one of the first lines of defense in regard to risk mitigation. That is why the military has strict application standards for health, physical fitness, emotional fitness, history of drug use, and more.
Can You Get a Medical Waiver for Asthma?
So now let’s answer your question – is your journey over, or can you possibly join the military with asthma? The answer is: it depends.
The military normally does not allow individuals who currently have asthma to join. However, there can be waivers for those who had asthma in their youth, provided it is still not present when they apply to join the military.
Now your situation is unique. You mentioned you had asthma as a youth, but haven’t had any issues since then. However, the doctor who recently examined you stated you still have asthma, but that it shouldn’t be a problem for military service.
Therein lies the problem: the doctor recommended you as fit for service, and MEPS sent your examination and waiver application to the Surgeon Generals office, where the Surgeon General denied the waiver application.
Obviously they saw something they didn’t like, or something that went against military medical standards for applicants. You can familiarize yourself with the DODI, or Department of Defense Instruction for Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services (PDF) for a better understanding of which medical conditions are excluded from entry to the military, and which are eligible for waivers (and under which conditions they are waiverable). This makes for dense reading, but arming yourself with this knowledge is essential if you want to keep trying to join the Air Force.
Since you have already received a medical disqualification, you should have a PULHES Code, which is a medical code describing the condition. Use the PULHES Code to look up your condition in the DODI. The information you find in the DODI should help you understand if your condition is waiverable.
What Course of Action Do You Have?
If your medical evaluations were correct, then it may not be possible to get a waiver. There is no appeal for the Surgeon Generals decision. Their office is where they hear your appeal (that is what the waiver process is for).
Was there a misdiagnosis? You would have a case if there was a misdiagnosis by the doctor who most recently examined you. This is shaky ground, because you would essentially be arguing the doctor was incorrect. However, since the doctor stated you were fit for service, it may be possible that what was diagnosed as a mild case of asthma could have been something else. So you could potentially visit another doctor for another exam. This would be your financial responsibility, so be sure you are willing to pay for another medical examination.
You would need to get a statement from the new doctor on their letterhead that states you do not have any traces of asthma and that in the doctor’s opinion, you are fit to serve in the military. Then you could submit that document, along with your other medical paperwork, to your recruiter, who can then submit it to MEPS. Make sure you continue using the same recruiter, as you don’t want to have multiple applications at the same time (that’s only guaranteed to slow things up, if not get you disqualified).
You could try another branch of service. Another option would be to try and join another branch of service. Each branch has their own Surgeon Generals office, and each case is handled by that branch. Your would have to indicate you previously tried to apply with the Air National Guard, and it is possible your other records may be reviewed. But if the medical condition is borderline, it may be reviewed differently by another branch of service. Waiver approvals can sometimes depend on the needs of the service, and may make it through more easily in a time when the branch of service is having difficult meeting numbers.
How Likely is a Medical Waiver to Be Approved?
Unfortunately, I cannot predict that outcome. I don’t play a doctor on the Internet, and I’m not involved in the recruiting process, MEPS processes, or any appeals boards. This is not my area of profession and I do not speak for the military. So I don’t want to give any false impressions.
What I can tell you is that some medical conditions are simply ineligible for waivers. Other conditions may be waiverable, provided the member meets the medical standards for waivers as outlined in the DODI (link above).
The best thing you can do is arm yourself with the applicable knowledge and have the willingness to do the legwork required to get the medical examinations, file the paperwork, etc.
Finally, don’t lie when trying to join the military. It never ends well. In fact, it can end with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and benefits, or even legal action. It’s simply not worth the stain on your record.
For more information, you can read this Guide for Getting a Medical Waiver to Join the Military. This article and podcast explain the medical waiver process and the process for finding information, submitting documents, and much more. It’s very helpful.
- MEPS Medical Prescreen Form: DD Form 2807-2 – PDF.
- DODI, or Department of Defense Instruction for Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services (PDF).
- MEPS Website.
Best wishes, and good luck joining the US Air Force!