Can I join the Army with Tourette’s Syndrome?

Joining the army with Tourette’s Syndrome can certainly pose a challenge. However depending on the severity, TS doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker.

It is possible to join the army with Tourette’s Syndrome, although the condition can certainly make it more difficult. It is important to be open and honest about medication and tics, and there are instances when recruitment officers have taken people on if the standards are met.


Disclaimer: I have had both Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for over 20 years, but this does not make me a healthcare professional. I understand that my experience may differ from others.

I can however provide a unique insight into living with these neurological disorders. This may be of high value to someone looking for first-hand life experience whether it be a fellow sufferer, a concerned family member, a medical expert or the media.

I am not in the army. The information here is solely from those that have served and have the relevant credentials to talk on this subject.

For more information on my websites content, please see this disclaimer.


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I am using the US Army here for two reasons. Firstly, I am expecting the majority of readers to live in the USA, as my website stats reflect this. Secondly the US Army will no doubt have some of the most strict recruitment policies, and any good news here will hopefully be motivational for anyone outside the US.

But this does depend on a counties understanding of TS.

But today, I am at London Bridge

From London Bridge Station it is a short walk to the River Thames. In the shadow of the UK’s tallest skyscraper is a warship used in D-day, and I thought it would be a nice backdrop for this post.

Can I join the army with Tourette’s Syndrome?

When I first Googled this question, it took me to a bunch of military forums. There wasn’t much information on this and this is where forums thrive. However over at the Tourette Association of America (TAA), they give us some information about the recruitment situation.

After telling us about some past figures around the world serving their country with tic disorders, it says the following:

In the case of the US military, however, successful careers for people with TS happen only infrequently. If military recruiters do their job as directed, no one who has ever taken a psychiatric medication (including most of the drugs used to suppress tics) or who has ever been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition will be admitted.

Pretty non-negotiable here then.

However, they do go on to say this in the next paragraph:

But occasionally military rules are set aside; recruitment officers can and do take a case-by-case approach. In the current environment, an individual whose TS symptoms have all but disappeared by adulthood and who no longer takes medication may well join the military.

So there is some hope here. Although it is practically stating that to join you have to no longer have symptoms, it certainly seems more optimistic.

Why would TS be a problem in the army?

The main factor here is stress.

No doubt that someone going into the military will have an understanding of the stress levels expected, but there is always the concern that tics may increase at these times. It is difficult to know how tics may be under such stressful conditions, and they may be exacerbated on the front lines.

In 2004 an experienced Guardsmen had to be sent home after stress made his tics worse. So it is something that the military have experienced. No doubt the individual believed he was capable and passed all the tests previously, but even then tics caused a problem.

What is also mentioned is that if medication is taken to control tics, these may not be readily available at times, especially during conflict.

Are there examples of people that have joined the army?

The TAA provides an example of one such individual that defied the odds and had a successful military career.

Lt. Col. Kelly Hannum has worked as an Air Force Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Officer in Southwest Asia. Despite his tics he has had a successful career diffusing bombs.

”Tourette’s Syndrome is just a part of me, it doesn’t define me” he is quoted to have said in this article at DVIDS.

Tourette Syndrome isn’t something I can easily hide, so I decided my best strategy was to be open about it. By being open and explaining to people ahead of time what they might see, they are more likely to ask me questions rather than try to speculate about my condition.”

Lt. Col. Kelly Hannum

He goes on to say that when instructing a class of new Civil Engineer Officers, one student even approached him stating he too had Tourette’s Syndrome.

Don’t always read the forums!

It was a pretty depressing read scrolling through some of the military forums. I am sure that many users are very aware of what is required to get into the military, but very few know what it is like to have TS.

One user posted ‘Hey guys, can I join the army with Tourette’s?‘, and was shut down pretty fast. Only a couple of people stood up for him and offered moral support, the rest basically said ‘give up‘.

This isn’t helped by the stereotypes shown across media. The majority of people do not know what it is like to have the condition, nor do they know how much it varies across the population.

Conclusion

Can you join the army with Tourette’s Syndrome? Possibly. Will it be difficult? Probably.

Do not go with the impression that Tourette’s Syndrome is a conclusive ‘no’ in the military. Although we have to be rational and understand that TS makes it a lot harder to get there.

The important thing is to be open and honest about how Tourette’s affects you, and not try to hide it which will cause problems further down the line. Recruiters do seem to treat cases individually, so have faith in the system.

Be 100% sure that this road is the one you want to go down. TS is well documented to have influence on stress and anxiety. Saying that, there are examples of people that have handled the pressure with this neurological disorder.

If you are certain that the military is right for you, go for it. There is no harm in trying. And all the best with it.


4 thoughts on “Can I join the Army with Tourette’s Syndrome?”

  1. I am one of those with TS and I served in the Army. I developed symptoms when I was about 14 years old. The main issue was that TS was relatively unknown in those days…. this was around 1960. I was not ever sure until my son was diagnosed by a specialist when my son was 15 (1996), the Doctor explained it could be hereditary… hence I had it and passed it to my son. I went thru the 2 year Army ROTC program, and after completing the program I enlisted in the Army ( I still had 15 units to graduate with a degree and get commissioned but I ran out of money)… I had vocal and motor tics galore but I also worked very hard to suppress them especially when in public… The Army never asked me any questions about this / probably because it was not known/enforced by recruiters … TS has slowed very much as I got older …. I still have vocal and motor ticks … I have a very soft ‘grunt’ that you have to be within 2 feet of me to hear … motor tick (eye twitch) I mostly control, breathe, relax, quick massage of my face… TS flares up with stress of course … Vietnam was no picnic ( I was an acting SGT (E-5) … but the stress also helped me be stronger in controlling my TS …… TS does not define you –

    Reply
    • Wow, thank you for this comment Dave. It is great to hear TS did not stop you joining the army, maybe it helped that less was known about it back then? However it sounds like you did well to suppress it as you said yourself. I am sure it took a lot of hard work!

      I hope your son has a mild case, I have similar tics to yourself, and hope it continues to dwindle as time goes on!

      Reply
    • Hey John, I am not too sure to be honest, but I am sure people have done so if they feel their tics aren’t bad and there is a strict policy against those with TS joining the armed forces.

      Of course I wouldn’t want to promote lying or hiding tics in this scenario.

      How willing an armed forces is to recruit someone with TS will vary by country and even the person doing the recruiting. It is great to hear people have been successful in joining and that recruiting people with TS can be done on a case by case basis as everyone has TS differently!

      Reply

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