July 2005 - Volume II - Issue VII

ADHD - "Military, Police and other Public Safety Careers"

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In the July 2005 edition of ADDITUDE magazine, Peter Jaksa Ph.D., who is Clinical Director of ADD Centers of America LLC wrote an article on the last page title "Uncle Sam (Doesn't) Want You". In brief, it is how the military, which is struggling to meet recruiting goals, has many restrictions for persons with diagnosed ADHD. I have known about this for sometime, but thought Dr. Jaksa did a nice job explaining some of the potential pitfalls for those young people wishing to enter the military. I also know from my own experience of 23 years in law enforcement and corrections that there are probably some pitfalls for those wishing to pursue careers in these and other public safety positions, whether they are written policy or not.

The military apparently puts restrictions on getting in, if you have been on stimulant medications for one year prior to entering. They may also restrict what activities a person can do. It is my personal belief that there are probably already many, many undiagnosed ADHD military personnel serving our country.

I also believe that being on medication probably would not adversely affect a military person's ability to be aggressive, and actually might reduce episodes of impulsivity and off duty problems many of them might get into. At the same time, I could see the Military being concerned about admitting someone with a DSM-IV diagnosis of a mental disorder, of which ADHD in fact is included. I would think that there are many serving our country who have this and other DSM-IV disorders, and others who find out while in the service that they have these issues. I don't know what the military policy is on those diagnosed who are already serving, but would think it would be difficult to just get rid of them. In addition, especially among those serving in combat roles in Afghanistan and Iraq, that there are incidents of depression, post traumatic stress, battle fatigue, substance abuse and other mental problems. Hopefully, the medical personnel who serve these soldiers are familiar with ADHD, as well as some of those more common battle related problems.

My intention here is to let people know about these pitfalls before they are disappointed at the recruiter's office. I also would advocate reconsideration on policy regarding ADHD individuals who take medication. Taking them off medication for a year and not letting them take it while in the service really makes no sense to me at all. After all they still have ADHD, only now they are not treating it, which is certainly ill advised in my humble opinion. Most persons with ADHD are way above average intelligence wise, and they certainly could (and I think do) make excellent soldiers.

I get quite a few calls from parents and young people who are interested in how I handled having ADHD, and being in Law Enforcement and Corrections for 23 years. The first thing I tell them is that I was not diagnosed with ADHD until I was 42 years old, and my career in these fields was coming to an end.

I believe that many people with ADHD are attracted to careers in Law Enforcement, Corrections, Emergency Medical work due to the unpredictable nature of the work, the excitement, and the plain fact that they are probably going to do well at this kind of work. Again, they are usually above average in intelligence and do good work. Unlike me, however, getting hired on with a previously diagnosed DSM-IV mental disorder could be a challenge.

As an example, imagine you make the top ten on a civil service list to be hired. During the interview, you do wonderfully and are feeling great. One of the committee members asks you if you have ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder or taken medication for depression. You would be obligated to answer this honestly.

Some states have these types of questions on applications for gun permits, which most police officer's obviously have to have. So you answer the question honestly. Now we have to look at the State, County or City liability. If they hire you and know you have ADHD, for instance, and were or are taking stimulant medication, what would be their liability if a situation came up, in which you were accused, even falsely, of police brutality? Now, it somehow comes out that the public agency knew you had this diagnosis when you were hired. I think you can see it might put them in a rather precarious position legally.

Like the military, there is no doubt many persons already serving in law enforcement capacities have undiagnosed ADHD. But, if you were hiring and had 9 other qualified applicants who did not have a DSM-IV diagnosed mental disorder, who would you hire?

It is very painful for me to have to tell some of these young people, or their parents about these potential problems, but I would rather tell them now, than have them spend 2-4 years working on a degree in Criminal Justice, only to not know why they were not being hired. Most agencies probably would just tell you they had "more qualified applicants" than try and explain any of this to you, which is also understandable.

I want you to know that, in my opinion, this should not prevent you from pursing a diagnosis of ADHD, if you feel you might have it, just so it won't be an issue in pursing your career goal. If I had to do it all over, even though I was successful (attaining the rank of Lieutenant), I would rather have been diagnosed with ADHD when I was younger, and given up my career goal, or adjusted it slightly to forensics, or some other area of Law Enforcement, where my intelligence might have been of service to law enforcement.

I also want you to know that I am not a Lawyer, and no nothing about any legal obstacles that would stand in your way. I just want you to have a heads up, and maybe pursue a legal opinion from an attorney who deals with employment law for their opinion.

I apologize in advance if I put a damper on any of your hopes and dreams. Hopefully, my fears are not justified. I just know that when I was a Lieutenant, and involved in the hiring of new officers, that a DSM-IV diagnosis would have affected my hiring decision, or weigh against that applicant when deciding between two or three equally qualified candidates.

Thanks and talk to you next month

Patrick Hurley

If you know on anyone who might like this newsletter please forward it to them and tell them to go to my web site at addcorridorcoaching.com and sign up.

Author's Bio: 

17 years in Law Enforcement, 5 years as adult probation officer, 2 years as ADHD life skills coach