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Criminal History Waivers

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Updated February 19, 2007

According to a just-released Pentagon report, the Army is approving significantly more criminal history waivers for enlistment than it has in years past. The Army granted more than double the number of such waivers in 2006 than it did in 2003.

In 2006, the Army approved 901 waivers for felony convictions, compared to 411 such waivers in 2003. About 10 percent of the moral waivers approved in 2006 were for felony convictions. Serious criminal history waivers also grew, from 2,700 in 2003 to more than 6,000 in 2006.

The report was obtained by the California-based military think tank, Michael D. Palm Center, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The fact that the military has allowed more than 100,000 people with such troubled pasts to join its ranks over the past three years illustrates the problem we're having meeting our military needs in this time of war," said Aaron Belkin, director of the center.

Lawmakers are concerned that continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan is causing the Army to lower their standards in order to meet their recruiting goals. In the past two years, for example, the Army has increased their non-prior service recruiting age limit from 35 to 42. Additionally, the Army has been approving more waivers for applicants who score in Category IVA of the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

"Our armed forces are under incredible strain, and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards," said Rep. Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat who has requested additional information from the Department of Defense. "By lowering standards, we are endangering the rest of our armed forces and sending the wrong message to potential recruits across the country."

According to the Pentagon report, almost 25 percent of military recruits in 2006 needed some type of waiver, up from 20 percent in 2003. Roughly 30,000 moral waivers were approved each year between 2003 and 2006.

The report divides moral waivers into six categories: felonies, serious and minor non-traffic offenses, serious and minor traffic offenses and drug offenses.

Approximately 20 percent of Army recruits needed a waiver in 2006. This is up from 12.7 percent in 2003.

More than 50 percent of Marine Corps recruits were given a waiver in 2006. However, the report explains that this is because the Marine Corps has a more strict policy on previous drug use than the other services. A single use of marijuana requires a waiver for Marine Corps service. This is not true of the other services.

About 18 percent of Navy recruits required a waiver. This is a slight increase from 2003.

About 8 percent of Air Force recruits had waivers, a small decrease from 2003.

According to the report, "the waiver process recognizes that some young people have made mistakes, have overcome their past behavior, and have clearly demonstrated the potential for being productive, law-abiding citizens and members of the military."

Criminal History Waivers

Waiver Type 2003 2006
Army Moral Waivers 4,918 8,129
Felony 411 901
Serious Non-Traffic 2,731 6,158
Minor Non-Traffic 100 169
Serious Traffic 742 35
Minor Traffic 5 1
Drug 929 865
Navy Moral Waivers 4,207 3,502
Felony 56 190
Serious Non-Traffic 2,844 2,340
Minor Non-Traffic 548 481
Serious Traffic 116 66
Minor Traffic 139 98
Drug 504 327
Air Force Moral Waivers 2,632 2,095
Felony 5 3
Serious Non-Traffic 1,306 761
Minor Non-Traffic 646 1,281
Serious Traffic 570 50
Minor Traffic 105 0
Drug 0 0
Marine Corps Moral Waivers 19,195 20,750
Felony 352 511
Serious Non-Traffic 3,443 4,636
Minor Non-Traffic 530 515
Serious Traffic 271 315
Minor Traffic 1,315 987
Drug 13,284 13,786

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