Joining the military is not like joining any other organization. And the application process to join the military is unlike almost any other job application process. Before you can join the military, you need to fill out a host of forms and fill out dozens of documents, including your health history, a background check, and more. Today, we’re going to focus on your health history.
Whether you are applying to the military for the first time, or you are thinking about going back in after a break in service, you need to fill out a medical prescreen form called the 2807-2 Medical Prescreen of Medical History Report (PDF) before you can even apply to take a military physical. There are many reasons for this, but the big one is to save everyone a lot of time and money. The military has very strict health requirements to ensure that people joining the military are physically fit for service.
Do you have a Va Service-Connected Disability Rating? It may be possible to join the military with a VA disability rating, depending on your specific condition(s). Use the following process to understand how the medical waiver process works.
How to Fill Out Form 2807-2
The form is fairly self-explanatory, and it has instructions printed on it. That said, you want to take your time when filling it out. It is very in-depth and you want to ensure it is accurate before you submit it to your recruiter. Your recruiter will then submit your 2807-2 and other information to MEPS, the Military Entrance Processing Station. This is the command that processes all military entrance physicals.
Important: If you mark “Yes” on anything in section 2, you must submit supporting information. Better yet, it is highly recommended that you submit supporting documentation from a medical professional stating your condition and that you are fit for service. Failure to do so will increase the chances that your 2807-2 is kicked back to you with a medical disqualification. (You may still get medically disqualified, but including the information will help smooth the process when applying for a medical waiver).
Permanent and Temporary Disqualifications
MEPS will either accept or decline your prescreen request. If it is accepted, you will be able to process through MEPS where you will take a physical where you will either pass or fail. If your 2807-2 is declined or you fail your physical at MEPS, you will receive either a Temporary Disqualification (TDQ) or a Permanent Disqualification (PDQ). Don’t let those terms scare you away.
A Temporary Disqualification simply means the physical condition is temporary and you cannot process through MEPS because of the medical condition. This could be something as simple as a broken finger. They can’t allow you to join the military with a broken bone. But it is classified as a temporary condition because it will heal. A TDQ will delay your request to process for a military physical until your condition has healed and you can prove the condition no longer affects you.
A Permanent Disqualification is for a medical condition that is permanent. A surgery, for example, is a permanent condition because it cannot be undone. A surgery doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot serve, it just means MEPS cannot process your 2807-2 without additional information. There are other reasons for a PQD, and each situation will be unique. Some issues are eligible for a medical waiver, while others are not.
If you fail your MEPS physical or your Medical Prescreen Form (2807-2) is kicked back with a medical disqualification, then you may, or may not, have the option to apply for a waiver, depending on the reason(s) for your PDQ(s).
Applying for a Medical Waiver – Get Familiar with the DODI
Once your 2807-2 has been rejected by MEPS and you have been given a PDQ, you can start the process of applying for a medical waiver (if your condition is waiverable). Not all medical conditions are eligible for a medical waiver.
To get a head start on the waiver process, you should get familiar with the DODI (Department of Defense Instruction for Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services), (PDF). This is the official document used by MEPS doctors to determine medical eligibility for military applicants.
If you received a PDQ, it should include a PULHES Code, which is a standardized medical code used to rate your physical condition(s). You can use these codes to look up your condition(s) in the DODI to see if the condition(s) are waiverable.
Important: This is where you need to step up and do some research. Most recruiters don’t have the time to hold your hand through the application process. Spending time on your end will make it easier for your recruiter to work with you to help you get a waiver. Remember, each recruiter is different, and most are willing to work with you if you are willing to work with them. And helping them with their job shows you are dedicated and motivated to join the military.
Unfortunately, not all medical conditions are waiverable…
Some Medical Conditions Aren’t Eligible for Waivers
I wish I could tell you that all you had to do to get a waiver approved was fill out a form, tell the military you are a hard worker, and get a couple character references. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
The military has some very firm standards for which types of medical waivers they will approve and will not approve. And the decision is completely out of your hands. And in many cases, you cannot appeal the decision. It is simple and final.
I won’t try to list all the medical conditions for which you cannot receive a waiver, because it is extensive. Some common maladies include having a history of asthma, ADD (if taking certain medications), diabetes, drug dependency, severe nut allergies (especially peanuts), problems with certain organs, certain skin conditions, and much more. The best thing to do is download a copy of the DODI mentioned above, and research your medical conditions.
Again: there are some conditions for which there are no waivers.
Applying for a Medical Waiver to Join the Military
Once you get your 2807-2 back from MEPS and you look through the TDQ(s) or PDQ(s) they gave you, you will need to prepare your case for a medical waiver. Basically, you will need to get a doctor or medical specialist to review each item for which you received a TDQ or PDQ. The doctor will need to write a note on his or her letterhead with the date, your medical history for that condition, your current condition, and whether or not you are physically capable of serving in the military, based on his or her assessment.
You will need to pay for the medical examinations our of your pocket. The military will not cover this expense.
Once you have these letters, you will need to submit them and a new 2807-2 to your recruiter. Your recruiter will then start the waiver process by sending the forms and supplemental information to the Surgeon General’s Office for your branch of service. The Surgeon Generals Bureau may or may not request additional information.
The Medical Waiver Process Can Be Time Consuming
I had to get medical waivers to join the Air National Guard – the waivers were required because I had two knee surgeries while I was on active duty. Because I had a history of surgery, I needed to get a physical from an orthopedic surgeon who looked at my health history, gave me an exam, and stated I was physically fit to serve again. The process for me to join the ANG took about 6 months from start to finish. It went like this:
- Submit 2807-2. It was declined by MEPS with multiple PDQs.
- Research PULHEES codes in DODI. Realize each condition was waiverable.
- Set up medical appointments with specialists.
- Get exams and letters from doctors on their letterhead.
- Resubmit 2807-2 with appropriate letters from doctors.
- 2807-2 was again declined by MEPS; my recruiter then sent in the 2807-2 and my doctors letters to the Surgeon General’s Office and requested a medical waiver to take the MEPS physical.
- Waiver approved; scheduled for a physical at MEPS.
- Physical declined by MEPS (this will happen almost 100% of the time, because of the PDQs). My physical was good with the exception of the items we already knew about. MEPS recommended a medical waiver based on my physical and supporting documentation.
- MEPS forwarded my physical and all documentation to the Surgeon General’s Office for a waiver.
- Waiver Approved.
This process can take months, depending on the complexity of your case, your medical conditions, how long it takes to get your medical exams and letters, how busy MEPS and the SG’s office are, and other factors (the summer is the worst time because this is when MEPS processes thousands of recent high school and college graduates).
There is No Appeal Process if Your Waiver is Denied
Here is the deal with waivers – you either get a medical waiver or you don’t. You can’t appeal. The Surgeon General’s office is the appeal. If they deny you the opportunity to serve, then that is the final answer. Writing to your Congressman or Senator won’t enhance your chances of joining the service. It just won’t happen.
However, depending on your medical condition, there may be other options you can try. For example, each branch of the military, including the Guard and Reserves, has a different Surgeon General’s Office. So if you have a borderline case, you might consider joining another branch of service. You might even consider a career in the Guard or Reserves instead of joining on active duty.
But be careful not to waste everyone’s time. If your condition is not waiverable, don’t go through the application process again – it wastes everyone’s time and money. The only time it is worth going through this process again is if you have medical conditions that are waiverable, but for one reason or another, the branch you applied to decided not to accept you at this time.
There are reasons this can happen. For example, if some branches of the military aren’t having trouble meeting their quotas, they may not need to take someone with a history of health conditions. All things being equal, they will take the person who doesn’t require waivers. (it’s faster, easier, and cheaper to get this person into uniform, and historically, they are more likely to finish training).
But some other branches may be having a more difficult time meeting their quotas, or they may be more open to putting prospective troops through the waiver process. So you may have luck applying to a different branch of the service, or applying to the Guard or Reserves. In fact, I have heard it can be easier to join the Guard and Reserves if you need medical waivers. Again, it’s only worth pursuing this avenue if your medical condition(s) are waiverable.
Final note: Please do not try to apply to more than one branch of the military at the same time. It will cause red flags in the system and may prevent you from being able to join. Exhaust all options with your first application before trying to apply to a different branch of the military. Best of luck!