The military comic strip “Terminal Lance” in 2021 poked fun at lying to enlist. (Adapted, with permission, from Terminal Lance creator Maximilian Uriarte.)
The ‘Genesis’ of today’s recruiting crisis
The annals of U.S. military valor feature scores of heroes who concealed part of their medical history to serve their country.
Consider President John F. Kennedy. As a young man, he suffered a host of painful, disqualifying physical ailments, such as back pain and ulcers, but leaned on his father’s connections to get around the required Navy medical exams.
Lt. Kennedy went on to command a patrol torpedo boat that a Japanese warship sheared in half during World War II, and he later received a Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
In recent decades, the lies told to enlist haven’t approached those extremes.
Nonetheless, fudging medical histories has been a key step on many troops’ path from applicant to recruit, according to a group of active-duty military recruiters who spoke with Military Times for this story.
“What it takes to get in the Army is, quite frankly, a lot of fraud and perjury,” one recruiter said.
But this tacit tradition — technically a crime — largely stopped in 2022, the same year the military’s recruiting numbers fell precipitously and today’s recruiting crisis came to the fore.
That year, the Defense Department brought a new medical records platform, known as Military Health System Genesis, online at Military Entrance Processing Stations, where applicants are medically examined before they can sign up.
Now, a year after Genesis was first used by MEPS, some military leaders acknowledge the new system has hindered recruiting.
Multiple recruiters on the ground, from different services and locations, are more blunt in their assessments. They say Genesis has ended an applicant’s ability to gloss over or knowingly ignore minor medical issues, such as past use of ADHD meds or inhalers, before signing up.
In the process, those recruiters say, it has turned the military’s stream of applicants into a trickle and made a recruiter’s already-difficult job even harder.
“Nobody says it out loud in the wrong company, but the whole DoD knows that before Genesis we were able to put people through with a lot of different things, within reason, because whatever that applicant decides to disclose is whatever that applicant decides to disclose,” Joe Brown, a Marine Corps recruiter and staff noncommissioned officer in the South, told Military Times. “Now that Genesis exists, we can no longer hide things.”
Five recruiters who spoke with Military Times were given pseudonyms in this report and granted anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The recruiting crisis has evoked concern among leadership and on Capitol Hill. The Army missed its fiscal 2022 goal by 15,000 soldiers, and the other branches, except for the smaller Space Force, barely made quota or had to pull extensively from their pools of delayed-entry applicants.
Officials told lawmakers this month that they expect the shortfalls to worsen this fiscal year.
Political leaders and partisan pundits blame today’s recruiting crisis on everything from so-called “woke” diversity training to kids these days being too fat and lazy to cut it.
Military brass have blamed an under-educated public, a roaring civilian jobs market and bad perceptions of service fueled by negative headlines.
But multiple recruiters who spoke with Military Times blame Genesis above all else.
“When Genesis hit the scene, it was a night-and-day difference,” Navy recruiter Peter Harris, a petty officer, noted.
Once an applicant signs their consent, Genesis vacuums up the entirety of their medical history, flagging past and present health issues.
That makes it harder, some recruiters say, to squeeze applicants through despite past maladies they did not disclose — such as ADHD, depression or a years-old broken bone. Recruiting numbers suffer as a result. Previously,such applicants could enlist if they concealed, or genuinely had forgotten about, these issues.
Genesis is, broadly, a medical records system for service members, families and veterans that aims to make it easier for doctors to share medical information. It came about as part of a congressional mandate that the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments digitize health records. The contract for Genesis, awarded to Leidos, is worth $5.5 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In the context of recruiting, the system allows processing stations to look at applicants’ civilian medical records, including hospital visits and prescriptions.
Genesis came to the military’s 67 MEPS locations in March 2022, when the head of U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command heralded it as “a leap in medical modernization.”
“The new electronic health record will follow applicants from the moment they walk through ‘Freedom’s Front Door’ into active duty, and eventually into the VA system,” Col. Megan Stallings, the command’s leader, said in a release at the time.
While multiple recruiters told Military Times that the system is flagging more applicants, Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence said in an email that Genesis “does not reduce the population of qualified applicants.”
“Prior to screening at (MEPS), an individual has, or does not have, disqualifying medical conditions,” she said. Genesis “merely confirms the physical and mental readiness of applicants by enabling authoritative review of their health history.”
Lawrence said Genesis “is not the root cause behind the Services failing to meet their recruiting mission,” but she did not respond by Military Times’ deadline to emailed follow-up questions directly asking if the Pentagon believes Genesis was playing a role in the recruiting crisis.
Lawrence blamed, in part, low willingness of young people to serve, as well as “the residual effects” of the COVID pandemic that prevented recruiters “from meeting with youth and their influencers in our high schools.”
But data provided by the Pentagon shows each service exceeded its recruiting goals in fiscal 2020 and 2021, when pandemic-related lockdowns and disruptions to everyday life were far more prevalent.