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The Military Ban On COVID-19 Patients Enlisting Is Yet To Become A Policy


Pentagon officials are looking into barring military recruits who've been hospitalized with COVID-19 unless they receive a waiver. But in an interview with NPR, the Pentagon's top officer, General Mark Milley, cautioned that this proposal is in a draft memo that has not been approved. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. Hi, Tom.


SHAPIRO: Well, first, tell us what this draft memo says.

BOWMAN: Well, this memo came out today. It was first reported by Military Times newspaper. And it says basically recruits hospitalized for the coronavirus would be, quote, "medically disqualified from military service." Now, there's a whole list of medical conditions that would require a waiver. Asthma would be one, of course. So under this proposal, those hospitalized by the coronavirus would need a waiver from a military officer before being approved for military service.

SHAPIRO: But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, told NPR that it's too early to say whether this will be approved.

BOWMAN: Right. I asked General Milley about that in this wide-ranging interview with Steve Inskeep, our Morning Edition host. And I asked General Milley about this. And let's listen to what he said.


MARK MILLEY: There was a draft memo apparently developed here in the Pentagon by some well-meaning folks. And then it was circulated for consideration and comment and so on, so forth. So it's an early version. It is not decided by the secretary of defense, nor any service secretary. I just, about 30, 40 minutes ago, I happened to look at the draft memo. And there's language in there that, you know, things like it's permanently barring, personally disqualifying. Some of that doesn't make any sense.

BOWMAN: So you can hear that this has not been decided. But also, he's skeptical about some of the language in this memo. And the general said he expected a decision maybe within a week or so. But he also allowed that, you know, it's possible some recruits who have been hospitalized for coronavirus could have some serious health problems as a result, maybe lung problems. So he's not dismissing it out of hand but very skeptical, clearly.

SHAPIRO: Does the military know of any recruits who've been hospitalized who want to enlist?

BOWMAN: You know, I asked that question of a Pentagon official today. And they know of no one who fits this bill that - had hospitalized for coronavirus who wants to enlist. And also, given the better health and condition of young people who would be willing to enlist, they say you're looking at a very, very small number of such recruits, even if this policy is approved.

SHAPIRO: What about those sailors on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt who got sick that were all in the news a couple of weeks ago?

BOWMAN: You know, that's a very good question. I asked that of General Milley. I said, what are you going to do with these sailors who are active duty, and let's say they want to reenlist this year, what are you going to say to them, they can't reenlist because they have been hospitalized with coronavirus? You're talking maybe a couple of dozen or more sailors. So would that bar them from reenlistment? And General Milley basically said that would make absolutely no sense.

SHAPIRO: Well, it also seems like if you've recovered from the disease, you're less likely to be a risk to the military than if you've not yet contracted it and could be vulnerable to it.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. And that - clearly, that's why they're going to scrub this memo and see if it makes any sense at all.

SHAPIRO: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

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