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Will dyslexia exclude a person from joining the U.S. military?

Categories: Disability Type, Learning Disabilities

Students who have dyslexia dream big, and for many, those dreams include serving our nation. At Learning Ally, we are often asked if having dyslexia will exclude a person from joining the military. For the answer, we turned to Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Taylor V. Beattie, US Army Special Forces, who by his own account "has been dyslexic for 57 years."

Dyslexia and military service are NOT mutually exclusive.  As a dyslexic patriot, it’s not about accommodations… it’s about the desire and capability to serve your country.

READ copyThe United States Army, along with the other military services, maintains an admissions policy based on an interpretation that would disqualify a large number of dyslexic applicants if taken literally, rather than in the spirit of the regulation. "b. Current or history of academic skills or perceptual defects (315) secondary to organic or functional mental disorders, including, but not limited to dyslexia, that interfere with school or employment, do not meet the standard. Applicants demonstrating passing academic and employment performance without utilization or recommendation of academic and/or work accommodations at any time in the previous 12 months may be qualified." Army Regulation 40-501Standards of Medical Fitness 4 August 2011 Imagine this: Under current US Army recruiting guidelines, General George S. Patton, certainly the most memorable, if not controversial, military personality associated with the victory of Europe in WWII, could be disqualified for dyslexia. In 1995, Carlo D’Este inked the Patton biography, A Genius for War. If George Patton was a genius, it was not demonstrated academically. Patton had a miserable time with his schoolwork; picreading and memorization were particularly difficult. D’Este mentions that George Patton’s parents believed that their son had a learning disorder of some variety that hampered George’s ability to read. This was particularly frustrating for the Pattons, as they knew they had a bright, intelligent, capable child. George Patton exhibited all the signs of, and most probably was, dyslexic. I say probably because now that he belongs to the ages, we can’t be 100 percent sure. Conversely, it can’t be demonstrated that he wasn’t either. So within the current context, if young George Patton had received an accommodation like a “read aloud” on text passages or a remediation support such as tutoring (and he was tutored) within a year of application to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (and he was), he would be disqualified. That is if young George Patton would admit to being dyslexic (he would not), and if he would have admitted to using an accommodation in the past 12 months (he would not). To an aspiring warrior, like young Patton, acknowledgement of dyslexia would have represented a sign of weakness (we know it's not) for the military to scrutinize. And to a determined “warrior wanna-be,” weakness does not demonstrate martial potential.
Believe me, dyslexia and military service are not mutually exclusive. I served 22 years in the United States Army Special Forces as an officer, and I have been dyslexic for 57 years (see my story here).
Consider the following: Statistics indicate that one in five people is dyslexic. That would mean 20 percent of the US population is dyslexic. Less than one percent of the U.S. population is in uniform. So the military remains highly selective, even though society is led to believe that anyone can join and serve. Accordingly, the standards for selection fluctuate with the needs of each service. As the military is being downsized following a decade and some at war, recruiters are on the look out for "red flag" issues that have the potential to erupt on active duty and compel the US Government to pay a lifelong disability. Providing a recruiter with more information than he needs to know to do his job will always hurt your prospects. In other words, informing your recruiter that you are dyslexic (which could interfere with your ability to read and understand instructions) makes his job that much easier; the guy/gal that comes in right after you is fully qualified and will not need a waiver to join. The quote from the passage above captures the “spirit” of the regulation: “Applicants demonstrating passing academic and employment performance without utilization or recommendation of academic and/or work accommodations at any time in the previous 12 months may be qualified.” If you have a high school degree, and you can take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) SF teachingwithout accommodation (extra time, or someone reading it to you), you will be fine. However once inducted, you will not be able to pause training so the Drill Instructor (DI) can offer you an accommodation such as extra time to load, fire, reduce a stoppage, and clear an M16A2 rifle on a “HOT, fire for record” qualification rifle range. And believe me that is NOT the attention you will want to attract from your DI. As you progress through your Basic Training/Boot Camp experience, you will go to great lengths to “fly under the attention radar.”  Attention equals additional push-ups or some other form of “corrective training.” When working with recruiters, I advise my (military wanna-be) clients to adopt a mantra when it comes to medical considerations: “I am in excellent physical health and taking no medications at this time.”  If this is not the case, you will need to reconsider your decision to enter the military, as it is a physically tough, demanding business. If asked about dyslexia or other learning disabilities, your mantra should be: “When I was in elementary school, I had some difficulty with reading, and it was thought that I might have dyslexia. Since then I have performed well in school, have earned a high school degree, and have not had any accommodations for 12 months.” Again if this is not the case, if you cannot read, write, or process information without extra time or assistive technology, then you will be a liability on a mutually supportive team where each individual depends upon the soldiers on his/her left and right. A team of teams if you will; as each buddy team, fire team, squad team, on up through the Brigade Combat Team (the standard deployable maneuver element of the US Army) depends on adjacent supporting units. The whole conducts operations as one mutually supportive team. Any extra time allotted for one member of the team will throw “the whole” out of synch. For example: every operation is initiated and driven by a five paragraph operations order (OPORD) which is initiated at the Brigade Combat Team (4,500 soldiers) and descends through subordinate units to the fire team (4 soldiers). As these orders work down the chain of command, they are read and re-written to the level that the operation must be executed. Additionally, there is a one-third/two-third rule. This means that of the time allotted, you take one third and provide the other two thirds to your subordinates to plan and prepare. If you require more time to read the order or require an assistive technology accommodation (most likely unavailable under congoaustere conditions), you will absorb time that should have been allotted for subordinate units. As military operations are planned backwards from an established Time on Target (TOT), there is no extra time allotted for individuals to plan and execute in sync with other members of the Army team. Failure to meet the time hacks (for extra time) puts the operation at risk. As a soldier you don’t want to be that gal or guy who is the weak link on the team. If you really want to serve in our nation’s armed forces, and if you are willing to provide the sweat equity along with mental and emotional preparation, you can do it. As a young man, I decided that I wanted to be a Special Forces Officer, a Green Beret. I did some research and developed a plan to achieve my goal that involved seeking an ROTC commission at the local university, and then applying for Special Forces while on active duty.
I had two big obstacles to gaining an Army commission. The first was that I needed a college degree, and I had recently been kicked out of college for grades.
So I got into night school, secured tutors as required, and worked my way back into a full time status at the university with eligibility for ROTC. The second obstacle concerned my ability to run. At the time the Army standard was two miles under 19 minutes to pass. I had wrestled and played football in college, but as a 200 pounder was not a distance runner. I bought some running shoes, hit the pavement, and got my time below 19 minutes. I earned my commission in the Army, and four years into my service as a Captain with lots of physical, mental, and emotional preparation, I was ready to go after my goal of becoming a Special Forces soldier. Despite my preparation, I met numerous obstacles and setbacks but kept moving forward, achieving the standard until I earned the Green Beret. The mission of the U.S. Military is to defend the United States and associated interests globally; it is a serious and demanding profession. Do your research. Figure out what you would like to do in the military, identify the standards for acceptance, and prepare for the challenge. If you work hard enough, you will find that you will exceed the military standard and your own expectations. As a dyslexic patriot, it’s not about your dyslexia or accommodations… it’s about the desire and capability to serve your country.

You can do it… I did.

LTC BeattieLTC (Ret) Taylor V. Beattie is a retired US Army Special Forces Officer (a Green Beret) and is currently a leadership, training, and education consultant. As a Green Beret, he operated in 53 countries on five continents. Taylor has a BA in Anthropology, a Master of Arts in Education, and is proud to be dyslexic.   Learning AllyREVISED-LALogo_Stacked_Tag - Copy is a national non-profit providing support to students who have print disabilities, as well as for their parents and teachers. For more information, consider joining today.