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undiagnosed add/adhd and enlisting in the marines
[Berserk] Guts
redrum669 wrote in little_details
Hey everyone,

I'm planing to write a story with a character who has add/adhd but has never been diagnosed with it. He expresses very strong symptoms, though (e.g. recklessness, disorganization, tardiness).
If he were to enlist in the marines would it be believable that his behavior/answers raise red flags, during any kind of evaluation, psychological or physical? He could even have poorly healed injuries (he gets into a lot of fights and he's also physically abused) but I'd rather not make them any injuries that actually incapacitate him in any form (at least not until old age).

I know that ADD/ADHD disqualifies you to 99% as a candidate, but I couldn't find anything about undiagnosed cases. I need to have him NOT qualify for the army, and therefore be unable to join (or at least get discharged within a month, tops) but it has to be a surprise for him. (He even stopped taking drugs well in advance to make sure he qualifies.)

Also, he doesn't necessarily have to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, it'd be enough if a symptom he expresses (or an incident that results from a symptom) would give the marines a different reason to disqualify him. I don't know, though, which could give them a strong enough reason for that?

The year he tries to enlist would be sometime between 1992-94 when he's 18-20, if that makes a difference. Setting is Dallas, TX.

I googled undiagnosed ADD/ADHD in teens and adults, symptoms, etc. and various stuff about enlistment qualifications which helped me out a lot, but it were these specific details that I couldn't find answers to. So here's me hoping, someone with a more detailed knowledge of add/adhd in relation to the military can help me out.

Thank you :)

Something that may or may not make a difference in how you want to handle this:

A young adult with undiagnosed ADHD (or other mental health stuff sometimes), who has never had access to competent mental health care, may be trying extra-hard to get some structure into his/her life, to the point that enlisting in the military seems an excellent way to provide that structure.

Realistically, he might make it in (because he's trying extra-hard to give a good impression because he WANTS to be better) but then have a serious breakdown during basic training because his brain cannot handle this particular form of structure no matter how hard he tries.

(Source: I have ADHD and it was not diagnosed until I was in my early 30s. Also, I know someone with a different mental illness who enlisted in the military to try to get structure in his life in a beneficial way, and he didn't make it through basic without breaking. This is a thing.)

I agree with this and want to add that he may very well have no idea that ADHD is his appropriate diagnosis. It's far more common for adults with ADHD to initially be diagnosed as anything from depressed to learning disabled, rather than ADHD. If he wanted a diagnosis, especially during the 1990's, he would likely have to push very hard to get one and to convince the psych professionals that he had ADHD rather than depression or bipolar illness.

So, no. I don't think that the military would refuse to let him enlist because they thought he had ADHD based on a basic psych profile and enlistment screening. They might twig on something being not-quite-right, but especially at that timeframe, that might not be a bar to enlistment given the need for manpower.

I admit I hadn't considered the political background at the given time but now that you mention it, it'd sure factor into it. Thank you :)

I had a bunch of different diagnoses for 20 years before a good psychiatrist finally figured out it was ADHD. Of course, part of that is gender - adolescent girls and adult women are usually assumed to be depressed and/or anxious when they loosely fit those criteria and the ADHD symptoms are interpreted that way. Disorganized? Depression. Short attention span? Depression. Overwhelmed by too many instructions given at once? Anxiety. Ugh. But men are frequently misdiagnosed as adults too, and yes, in the 1990s it would have been an even bigger problem than today.

Thank you for your comment, I'll keep this in mind :)

You're welcome. Actually, the tip-off to the psych was my response to medication. Antidepressants either didn't work at all or had only a small effect (I do have mild anxiety as well, not awful enough to require treatment but enough that a drug with an anti-anxiety effect can make me feel a little better). Benzos helped a little, but not much. He eventually thought aha, maybe it's bipolar type II, and put me on mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Those, too, were barely better than nothing, and made me tired. He then gave me Adderall to combat the fatigue and see if there might be some ADHD complicating things; in two days, most of my symptoms resolved, and I eventually discontinued all the meds except a low dose of Adderall. I can now function without it if I must, as long as I get some coffee or Red Bull as a substitute, but my mood and focus are better when I take it.

Another factor was that my brother was diagnosed as a child; he outgrew it, as some kids do. A doctor will be more likely to suspect ADHD in an adult if s/he has relatives, usually boys, who had it as children. A lot of women and some men actually get diagnosed when their own children do.

Thank you very much, for the insight and I'm glad to have someone who actually has ADHD say that it makes sense that he'd want to enlist in the military. I figured it might, but I don't have it myself so it was speculation.

The way you mentioned how it might go down works with the story, so I'll have him enlist but then not make it through basic training.

Thank you :)

My experience with ADHD is about 10 years more recent than your time frame and I know diagnosis would have change a lot in the time frame, but I initially wondered if his case was severe if he would have been diagnosed with something else as a child that would prevent him from enlisting. I currently have a 7 year old student with what I would consider severe ADHD and he is unmedicated. He has difficulty making friends, walking places instead of running and even has trouble not talking for any period of time. He is performing above grade level in all academic areas yet his behaviors are such that he requires self contained special education classroom setting and one on one supervision. While these things can mature with age I see him remaining in the program through HS.

So I suppose my question would be in what ways do you see his ADHD manifesting in daily life and what do you mean by severe.? If his ADHD affected his school performance he may have gained another label that raises a flag.

(Source: I am a current Special Education teacher that works with students with all levels of ADHD, but my time frame knowledge is 2004- present)

With the family background I have in mind, his parents would not have taken him to see a doctor about his behavior. And his teachers only saw him as a trouble maker, plus his last name would ring a bell for most of them and pretty much have them expect 'bad' behavior. So in terms of care he's been dealt a very bad hand from the beginning.

The symptoms I had in mind were difficulty making friends, restlessness, impulse control issues and disorganization. It affects his school performance to a degree, but he manages to just so finish high school with the help of a tutor. If he gained a label that'd disqualify him or raise the chances that he'd be deemed unfit, he'd know it and that's what I don't want. Though I guess he could try and lie. I have to think about that...

Thank you very much for your comment :)

(I am a 10 year veteran, Air Force though. Additionally, am an MD. I know it's a weird combination.)

I am confused about your premise: is he undiagnosed, or diagnosed and stopping medications to qualify? For enlistment purposes, today, a diagnosis is not a bar to service, but requiring medication in the last year is. Today, unlike the 90's, someone with ADHD can be "re-diagnosed" and begin taking medications once in the service and having completed basic and technical training successfully without meds. In the 90's, he would have just had to function without meds, which he undoubtedly would be (depending on your definition of functioning) given his undiagnosed status.

There is no psychological evaluation for entry into the military save what you admit to in your enlistment paperwork and the rigors of your security clearance investigation. No meeting with a shrink or anything. Though people with severe psychological problems and addictions tend to have more trouble with the stress of basic training and sometimes out themselves as "unsuitable for service" that way, but again, all of that is tied to actions: if you are miserable but can get your work done and keep your chin up, you'll pass. Recruiters enlist flaky, fidgety, disorganized people every day, and many do well. No one is going to stop him enlisting based solely on symptoms observed. If you want him to be found unsuitable for enlistment because of ADHD, but also be undiagnosed, it will be because of whatever incidents you make up and tie to his ADHD which are a bar to service, which you can easily find a list of: drug charges, assault charges, failure to finish HS or get a GED, etc.

To be perfectly honest, most young enlisted military people I know have some degree of all the traits of ADHD: disorganized, distractible, reckless, tardy. As long as he is able to get his work done and not piss his superiors off too much with tardiness and disorganization, he could stay in. Honestly, the understanding we have of ADHD is very new, and the military is an old and conservative institution. Young enlisted men are basically expected to be disorganized and reckless, and that's what NCOs are for, to be big brother/mother/father to them. If you want him kicked out because of his ADHD it will not be for that stated reason; it will be for chronic tardiness, or some large failure of duties due to disorganization, or if you want him to be a fighter, some kind of assault charge. (Note that violence and recklessness are not at all part of the ADHD diagnosis, though I guess you can stretch lack of impulse control a bit to get there.)

And you mentioned both the Army and the Marines. You want him to qualify for one and not the other? Or are you using them interchangeably? (If so: do not.) Regardless, an undiagnosed ADHD patient will have no trouble enlisting if that's all that he has to bar him (no criminal record, successfully got a HS diploma or GED, can pass the ASVAB).

Thank you so much for your comment. And sorry for using both "Army" and "Marines", it won't happen again. I was going for the Marines.

The premise is that he's undiagnosed. However the rest of your comment gave me all the answers I needed.

If you want him kicked out because of his ADHD it will not be for that stated reason; it will be for chronic tardiness, or some large failure of duties due to disorganization, or if you want him to be a fighter, some kind of assault charge. (Note that violence and recklessness are not at all part of the ADHD diagnosis, though I guess you can stretch lack of impulse control a bit to get there.)

That pretty much sums up everything I had in mind, in case he would be able to join, so I'm glad to read that it could actually work out that way. One of his symptoms is indeed lack of impulse control and, with other issues from his background playing into it, I think an assault charge would fit and work well with the rest of the story.




Edited at 2014-02-17 08:26 pm (UTC)

Ok, great.

So for kicking him out, here are your options:

Administrative discharge, which can be pencil-whipped for any reason, including something criminal that the command decides to not prosecute, but then the crime must be committed against military members and probably on-base, or the civilian legal system will want to get involved. I believe that they can voluntarily step out of it in favor of the military justice system, but they won't if the victim is a civilian. This would be the most merciful way, done by a sympathetic command.

Other than honorable discharge or dishonorable, which is a seriously huge black mark forever, and will lose him VA benefits and such. I'm not even sure you can do this without a court martial, but you probably can. Thankfully, I have no experience with this.

A note about courts-martial: any kind of discharge or Article 15 non-judicial punishment can be appealed (sort of) by the offender and sent to a court martial. So if he disagrees with his article 15 or admin discharge he can ask for a court martial and must be granted it.

Great, thank you very much for the list of options. I was going to look into that so this helps a lot.

To preface, my experience with this situation comes from my husband, who's experienced this situation during that time frame.

My husband, who has recently been diagnosed with ADD, was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1992 or so. His hyper-focusing was diagnosed as manic episodes, and he was unable to concentrate at other times. Starting at an early age, he self-medicated with coffee, which helped him focus and also helped him sleep.

If your character managed to pass the initial recruitment, he would most definitely fail basic. My husband also did civil war reenacting, and he frequently slept through drill when unmedicated.

It's very likely that he would've been diagnosed as something else that would keep him out of the military during this time period, even if he wasn't diagnosed with ADD. Hope this helps!

Yes, it helps a lot, thank you very much :)

Your husband's example pretty much confirms what I had in mind for my character in the scenario that he'd pass the recruitment.

Just as a note...I have ADHD, diagnosed waaaay back when as "Hyperkinetic" and have been unmedicated my entire life (my parents did not approve of the side effects).

That said, I had no problems joining the Marines or going through boot camp. The structure, level of physical activity and expectations of my DIs actually helped, a lot.

So...yeah, there is another viewpoint for you :)

Thank you for your comment, it's highly appreciated :)


If ADHD doesn't work for your purposes, might I suggest some form of autism? My cousin is, like me, on the autistic spectrum, and was originally diagnosed ADHD because so many of the symptoms are similar. He is currently in the Marines, having made it through basic training expressly because he approved of the order and discipline. In the military, if someone says A, they mean A. It's refreshing for autistic people - in civilian life we routinely get confused by social rules and unspoken things we're expected to know and were somehow never told.

At the moment, it seems that ADHD works with what I had in mind. But I'll keep your suggestion in mind in case something changes. Thank you very much :)

my son left the marines after five years last september. he couldn't handle being a marine and unmedicated.

OK late comment is late, but if it helps...

Keep in mind entering the military does work out fine for some people with ADD/ADHD. I have ADHD (unmedicated) and my original decision was definitely influenced by wanting "structure." Now, I did not enlist, I joined ROTC (broke my collarbone before entering the academy dammit). It took a lot of lessons, crying breakdowns, and embarrassing interviews over the course of a year or so but I did get my shit together. It helped that I had a very supportive officer/enlisted corp who was used to Freshman cadets having "issues." This was considered more or less normal. Also, they were willing to expend the extra effort on me because when these things weren't going on I was an outstanding cadet (awards for cadet of the quarter, honor society member, drill team member, etc). That kind of hyper-focus was excellent for memorization. I still use techniques I learned back then to help manage my ADHD.

However, all that being said, if I had jumped straight into a basic training situation without the pre-prep I would probably have sunk fast. Either that or kept my head above water (I'm good at faking it and not asking for help...) until I had a rather spectacular implosion. My personal feelings would have been (were in certain situations) high self-frustration, blaming myself, hating myself, spiraling depressive episodes and extreme (almost paranoia) anxiety about doing things right. If I couldn't follow what I considered "simple directions" I decided I was a bad person. Some people direct this shame/anger outwards as well as or instead of inwards. I could sometimes see myself doing something wrong (like watching inside my head) but be unable to stop it. That might be a great way for your character to feel about his problems/mistakes.

Something to keep in mind that you might not know. My brother enlisted in the Army National Guard and had to wait for his basic class to start. The first one was full and then they weren't scheduling for a while. So instead he was placed with a Guard unit who gave him a uniform and had him start learning the basics all BEFORE getting shipped off to basic. From what I understand this is fairly common for all the services. If that situation happened to your character he might be able to fool himself into thinking he could do this/ he had it all together/ knew stuff already, which would make his inevitable fall more devastating. (Not sure if the getting kicked out is a main plot point in your story or just background.)

Sorry for the tl;dr!

Hit me up with a PM if you want more info!

Thank you very much for your detailed insight. It's definitely going to help me write the character.