A felony conviction does not automatically disqualify a person from
military eligibility; however, military waivers are not handed out
willy-nilly although there has been a significant increase in the
number of convicted felons who have been admitted into the military in
Getting a waiver
The waiver procedure is not automatic. The waiver is considered and
approved if the applicant has been found to successfully adjust to
civilian life after being released from prison and from judicial
Military grant waivers can be given for those with criminal records, as
well as those with low aptitude scores, and medical problems that would
normally make them ineligible for service. These are considered "moral"
waivers, and can include traffic and drug offenses, misdemeanors and
In recent years, more recruits with criminal records, and that includes
felony convictions, have been allowed to join the Marine Corps and the
Army because the military is in dire need of volunteers due to the war.
The Army increased its age limit from 35 to 42 in an attempt to recruit
A controversial issue
Allowing felons to join the military does not get a thumb's up from
everyone. There are those who believe this is a lowering of standards,
which sends the wrong message to other prospective recruits and
endangers the rest of the armed forces while others argue, including
the Pentagon, that those men and women who have demonstrated that they
are law-abiding citizens and have overcome their past behavior and
subsequent mistakes can be an integral part of the military.
In 2006, approximately one in five Army recruits required a waiver;
more than half of the Marine recruits needed such, where as only 18
percent of the Navy recruits needed a waiver in 2006 and eight percent
of the Air Force recruits were waivered.
Categories of waivers
Moral waivers are divided into six categories by the military including
felonies; serious non-traffic offenses and minor non-traffic offenses;
serious traffic offenses and minor traffic offenses and drug offenses.
Army Public Affairs officer John P Boyce, Jr. noted in a statement to
CNN that young men and women in today's world have a hard time meeting
the stringent moral, medical, administrative and aptitude requirements.
In fact, Boyce said that only three in 10 Americans of military age can
meet the standards. Thus the need to use waivers in response to a
society that has changed and where younger people are apt to suffer
from medical problems, such as asthma, be overweight or have a criminal
history. He said that waivers are not given for sexually violent
offenses, drug-trafficking or alcoholism.
Department of Defense data
Data from the Department of Defense reveals that more than 50 percent
of those recruited into the Army in 2007 had convictions running the
gamut from bad checks, stolen cars, theft, burglary and drug offenses.
However, this data also indicated that two individuals were allowed to
join the Army following manslaughter convictions; five enlistees had
sexual assault convictions and three had been convicted for negligent
or vehicular homicide. In 2006, five individuals were allowed to join
the military although they had been convicted of bomb threats and
The continuing war has stressed the resources of the military thus
making it necessary to allow more than 100,000 people who have had
difficulties, including felony convictions, to join the military ranks.
If you have a conviction in your past but want to join the military,
discuss this with a recruiter. More than likely you will be able to
find a way to make it happen.