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WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has rescinded a recruiting policy that banned anyone who was hospitalized because of COVID-19 from joining the military without a waiver, a top official said Thursday.
Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters Thursday that he had nixed the interim policy guidance and that the military had returned to its previous guidelines for military recruits.
He said COVID-19 cases would be processed on a case-by-case basis, going through the infectious disease history of each individual recruit and then relying on the attending physician to determine if the recruitment candidate meets the military's accession standards.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters the military would look at COVID-19 hospitalizations as it does underlying illnesses such as asthma, which is not an automatic disqualifier for joining the military.
"Like any other disease, an underlying damage or illness or harm that results from that would have to be examined by a physician (to) make a determination whether they can meet the standards for the force," Hoffman said.
The previous guidance, revealed earlier this month, dictated that individuals who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were "medically disqualified for accession, subject to further review of hospitalization/comorbidity records, and waiver by a Service Medical Waiver Authority."
Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM), which screens military applicants, said in a statement given to VOA on May 7 that patients who were hospitalized "may be contagious for a longer period than others" and "are likely to require evaluation for residual physical performance limitations (e.g., pulmonary and end-organ function) before medical qualification."
Long-term health effects for this group "are unknown," the command said, which is why a waiver review was required.
COVID-19 and current troops
COVID-19 hospitalizations still are "not immediate disqualifications" for current troops, according to a senior defense official. But those who are no longer able to perform their duties would need to undergo a medical board process that could lead to a change in military specialization or a discontinuation of service.
"This is similar to what's done with any illness or injury obtained while in the military," the senior official told VOA earlier this month.