Serving in the military is both an honor and a service to those who volunteer in this great country of the the United States of America. Many potential volunteers are disqualified for various reasons. Thus the reason for my letter.
I am a 25-year-old man with a four year college degree in history from Stony Brook University, and I have autism. I have been rejected by the U.S. Army three times outright just from disclosing my diagnosis. I was also rejected by the U.S. Marine Corps twice after disclosing my medical records. I was never given the opportunity to take the ASVAB, nor was I given an opportunity to appeal the decision.
This is a personal fight for me but this is also a fight for other people with autism. For far too long our right to serve and fight has been denied on the grounds of our disorder, but we are so much more than that. We have served before and we continue to serve beneath the radar. I was even told by one of my recruiters to hide my diagnosis by not mentioning it. This is wrong. Just like ethnic minority and LGBT service members before us, we shouldn’t have to hide who we are when serving.
That is why I’m asking the U.S. government and military to make autism a potentially waiverable condition for military service. This waiver won’t cover all people on the autism spectrum, nor should it because autism is a spectrum disorder. But those of us who can serve and want to serve should be able to do so.
Openly allowing those with autism to serve would raise the standing of the autism community. Just because you have autism does not mean you don’t have the desire to serve your country. There are people with autism that have served in the past successfully and even serve now. Some nations such as Israel have specialized units that utilize the skills of autistic people to support the military.
There are a lot of patriotic autistic people out there who would like to contribute to their country by serving, and we need to recognize that. With autism rates at one in 40 people and growing, we are a large portion of the population. It seems unjust that so many people who are willing to serve are not being given the chance.
I realize that not everybody wants to serve in the military, even those with autism. I also realize that military service is voluntary for everyone. However, that person with autism probably knows themselves better than anybody else and knows what they are capable of in the world. I have read about an Army medic with autism who gave his life in Afghanistan.
It is frustrating to be evaluated every day because of your disability. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. I feel the need to pioneer and fight for those who don’t have a voice. Individuals with autism need legislative support to get this ball rolling. My role is to act as a spokesman and voice for those that have been beaten down before me. My passion is that I will be able to serve openly as a military man who just happens to have autism.
Why discount a whole group of people who could do so much good in the military? We are making a conscious choice and know what we are doing. We are not being tricked, and we know what joining the military entails.
For the past three years and currently, I serve in the New York State Guard. I’ve been through boot camp and I understand the pressures such as PT and being yelled at by drill instructors. I made it through to the other side and I am currently serving as a radio operator. Every month I serve one weekend, and one week a year I go away to Camp Smith to hone my skills. With this experience I am fully aware of what I am walking into and it has not deterred my desire to serve my country.
The one lesson I want you to take away from this is that every person with autism is an individual first with different talents, desires and motivations. I and so many other people with autism who want to join should not have to lie to get in. This goes against our truthful nature in the world. We are people and we want to serve just like everybody else.