The Academies, DODMERB & Medical Waivers
Updated: Jan 20
Every year, about this time of the academic year, inevitably one or two of my seniors will have to address a medical condition and question if they will need a medical waiver. Often, the medical details are well outside my knowledge or expertise as an Admission Coach for the US service academies. The 'real' experts are part of the admissions departments at each of the academies along with the professional men and women of the Department of Defense Medical Evaluation Review Board (DoDMERB). In this article, I will provide some insights that I have learned over the years as an Admissions Liaison Officer and Director as well as an Academy Admissions Coach.
DoDMERB, as stated on their website, serves as the agency inside the DoD to determine the ". . . medical qualifications of applicants for appointment to a United States Service Academy, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Programs of the United States Armed Forces, and other programs as assigned by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs." In effect, DoDMERB serves as a medical 'umpire' determining if a candidate meets medical standards or not. A candidate that is determined to be "medically disqualified" may receive a "medical waiver," if the specific school makes the request.
First, the Office of Admissions at each of the schools (USAFA, USMA and USNA) must determine if a candidate is competitive for an offer of an appointment. This determination may be difficult if the candidate has an incomplete application. Thus, it is critical that you, as a candidate, complete all components possible, especially the evaluator interview, the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) and the personal statements and essays.
After Admissions determines that a candidate is competitive, then they will make the waiver request. In fact, each of the three major academies (USAFA, USMA and USNA) use different internal groups to determine if a medical condition is 'waiverable.' This agency, such as the Air Force Recruiting Service Accession Medical Waiver Division (AFRS/AMWD), reviews a candidate's medical details to determine if a medical waiver is appropriate. They may either approve the waiver, disapprove it or request further information from the candidate concerning the medical condition cited. If additional medical information (AMI) is requested, candidates will be notified by DoDMERB with an email instructing them to log into their DoDMERB account to review the update.
In the case that a waiver is approved or denied, the candidate will be notified by email through the school that an update has occurred and to follow the instructions to view the candidate's waiver decision letter. Approval ends the process successfully, but in fact, a denial is not the end of the road.
Recently, a parent of one of my students referred me to this article by a reserve officer that spent a number years working through the process of earning a medical waiver to join the military. It provides some very nice insights that apply to the academy medical evaluation process. The overall message is that a candidate has several alternatives to address a waiver denial.
One alternative is to rebut the disqualification. A rebuttal means that the disqualifying condition does not exist now, or has never existed. In fact, this option will be presented to a candidate early in the process when they are initially notified of a disqualification. A candidate should collect as much information as possible, which will support that the medical problem did not exist, does not exist, or will not exist when the candidate enters the academy. A submission may include statements from a Doctor, other medical professionals, school officials (e.g., candidate has not missed school because of the problem), and coaches (e.g., problem has not effected athletic performance). Submit any information that will convince DoDMERB to remove the disqualification. DoDMERB will evaluate documentation as it is received and may request additional testing, remove the disqualification, let the disqualification stand, or let the disqualification stand with a review status at a future date (for "temporary" conditions). Even if DoDMERB does not remove the disqualification, all pertinent information is contained in the DoDMERB file allowing the candidate to pursue a medical waiver (as noted in the preceding paragraphs).
Another alternative (and overall strategy) is to apply to all five of the service academies and the three ROTC scholarships. As I noted previously, each Admissions Office determines "competitiveness" and each military service uses a different waiver authority to determine eligibility. A student may very well be considered competitive by one service academy but not by another. They may qualify for a waiver with one service branch but not for another. By applying to different schools and scholarships, you maximize your chances.
The final alternative is to try again, especially if you were not ruled competitive in your previous applications. In other words, if you were not considered competitive one year, redouble your efforts and reapply. This topic is the subject of another of my blogs (here); however, the bottom line is that an entering cadet or midshipman must be less than 23 years old when they enter the academy. One exception is the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which has an older limit of 25 years old! Thus, you may very well qualify for a medical waiver the following year because: (1) you are considered to be a competitive candidate, and/or (2) the waiver is granted this year (when it may not have been granted the previous one). One of my students is following this alternative and is hoping that the medical waiver will be granted after becoming more competitive as a college freshman and an AFROTC cadet.
A determination of "medically disqualified" is not a death sentence. The military provides a number of options for candidates to address a "DQ" determination. For the candidate that is focused, patient and persistent, you may very well be rewarded with a medical waiver leading to an Academy appointment or the confirmation of an ROTC scholarship. Congratulations!
[I would welcome a chance to discuss details with you. I offer coaching services to pace and prepare you (and your parents!) for the entire Academy application process. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or 503.515.7406]