False Statements at the Recruiting Station

False Statements on Military Recruiting Paperwork

Army woman and man walking with duffelss
Some recruiters encourage recruits to lie about their criminal or medical history. Catherine Ledner / Getty Images

Getting into the military can be difficult, especially when the needs of the military are low (no war to fight) or the economy is poor and more people stream into the recruiting station looking for work. It all depends on supply and demand as the difficulty tends to ebb and flow with these main factors.

For the most part, recruiters are hardworking, honest professionals. They know the regulations and the enlistment requirements of their service, and they work hard to legally process recruits for enlistment. Recruiting is a difficult job, and recruiters who do their jobs well, and legally have my utmost respect.

Military Recruiting Truth

Unfortunately, there are some recruiters out there who are encouraging (and, in some cases, downright instructing) recruits to lie about their criminal or medical history. Here are four common examples of situations that occur:

  • An applicant claims his recruiter told him to lie about his childhood asthma. The recruit does so and is accepted. A week before graduating boot camp, he falls ill with a breathing problem. The medical officials diagnose it as asthma, and the troop is placed in a "holding status" for several weeks while the military locates and obtains previous civilian medical records. The records are located and show a childhood diagnosis of asthma. The recruit is given an administrative discharge for fraudulent entry, with a Reenlistment Eligibility (RE) code of "4" (he can never enlist again). His fraudulent entry discharge will follow him for the rest of his life. The sad part is, that history of childhood asthma is often waivered today, if disclosed, and a pulmonary function test shows no evidence of current breathing problems.
  • A recruit had a felony conviction, as a juvenile, but the records were sealed. The recruiter performed a local criminal background check and it came back clean. The recruiter instructed the recruit to lie at MEPs, and the recruit was enlisted in the Delayed Enlistment Program. Months later, the recruit returned to MEPs to process for shipment to basic training. He was informed at that time that the FBI criminal background investigation discovered the juvenile felony conviction. He was discharged from the DEP, and can never enlist again (had he reported this originally, a waiver could have been granted).
  • An Air Force recruit was arrested as a juvenile, and the record was later expunged. A lawyer and his recruiter told him that he didn't have to report the arrest. The recruiter did a check with the local law enforcement agencies and found no record of the arrest. Based on the advice of the recruiter and the lawyer, the recruit did not disclose the arrest on his enlistment documents. During the final week of basic training, he was removed from his flight and processed for a discharge for fraudulent entry. A record of the arrest was found when conducting his security clearance background investigation. (The military requires that you report *ALL* arrests, regardless of the final outcome).
  • Based on his recruiter's advice, a Navy recruit did not report knee surgery he had undergone at the age of 14. The surgery was such that it would have required a waiver to join. The recruit had selected a rating (job) that only required a SECRET Security Clearance, so his recruiter assured him that there was no way that the Navy would ever check his civilian medical records unless he possibly re-injured his knee at a later time. The recruiter was mistaken. While in A-School (job training school), the recruit was tentatively selected for an assignment that would have required a TOP SECRET Clearance. As part of the initial assignment screening process. the DSS (Defense Security Service) began a detailed background investigation. When performing interviews, an acquaintance of the recruit happened to mention the time that the recruit spent in a hospital. The investigator noticed that there was no mention of hospitalization on the recruit's initial enlistment paperwork, so he sought and located the hospital records. The recruit received a fraudulent enlistment discharge.

Each of these individuals wanted to know if they could somehow have their discharges upgraded. The sad answer is, probably not. The law allows a military discharge to be upgraded only in extremely limited cases.

Lying to Get Into the Military is a Felony

Knowingly giving false information or withholding required information on any recruiting form is a criminal offense (When the information would have made an individual ineligible to enlist, or would have required a waiver to enlist). It's not a misdemeanor, it's not the same as getting a speeding ticket. It's a felony offense, punishable by a $10,000 fine and three years in prison. If you lie to get into the military, you are committing a felony. It's that simple. If you get away with it long enough to actually enlist and are caught later, it's also a "military offense." You can be prosecuted for a violation of Article 83 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which states:

"Any person who--

  • (1) procures his own enlistment or appointment in the armed forces by knowingly false representation or deliberate concealment as to his qualifications for that enlistment or appointment and receives pay or allowances thereunder; or
  • (2) procures his own separation from the armed forces by knowingly false representation or deliberate concealment as to his eligibility for that separation; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

The Manual for Courts-martial (MCM) lists the maximum punishment for a violation of this article as: dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement at hard labor for two years.

Read The Contract!

The Enlistment Contract (DD Form 4/1) can't make this any more plain. Paragraph 13a of the contract (signed by the recruit) states:

13a. My acceptance for enlistment is based on the information I have given in my application for enlistment. If any of that information is false or incorrect, this enlistment may be voided or terminated administratively by the Government, or I may be tried by Federal, civilian, or military court, and, if found guilty, may be punished.

A recruiter who encourages you to lie has violated his/her own service regulations and can be prosecuted for violation of a regulation under Article 92 of the UCMJ. Additionally, if the recruiter knows you are not qualified for military service, under the regulations, and processes your enlistment anyway, that recruiter can be charged with a violation of Article 84 of the UCMJ.

However, when you get caught in your lies, if you think that dishonest recruiter (the one who told you to lie) is going to stand up and say, "Yes, I told him to lie, it's all my fault," then you'd better get your head examined. He/she is going to say, "Nope. He/she didn't tell me a thing about it!" You are the one who is going to suffer the consequences of your choice to commit a felony.

The Recruiter VS. MEPS

MEPS' job is the same as the recruiter's job. It is not the recruiters job to get you into the military, nor is it MEPS' job to disqualify you. For both, it's to ensure that only qualified candidates enlist. The criminal background check and security clearance investigations can and do find sealed records. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying to you. If you get sick while in the military, and the medical professionals suspect it is a preexisting condition, the military will make every effort to track down previous civilian medical records. Again, if someone tells you that the military never checks into these matters, then they are not telling you the truth. If you lie about your previous drug use (even if there is no criminal record), and your military job/assignment (either now or a future assignment) requires a Top Secret clearance, the military CAN find out about it (see Security Clearance Secrets).

Individual recruiters are not authorized or qualified to make medical or legal determinations. Each of the services has a waiver process whereby senior recruiting and medical officials can waive certain disqualifying medical or moral (legal) factors, depending upon the current needs of the service and the other qualifications of the applicant.

MEPs can sometimes be very fussy when it comes to determining qualifications. If, for example, you say to your recruiter "I might have had asthma as a kid, but no doctor ever diagnosed it as asthma," then the recruiter is perfectly correct to instruct you that the correct answer to the question "Have you ever been diagnosed with asthma?" is "no." One should read the questions carefully, and answer them truthfully, but it's never a good idea to offer more information than what is actually asked.

Why Do Some Recruiters Encourage You to Lie?

Recruiters are required to "make mission" (or face consequences to their career), and "making mission" is often beyond their control. This system of "making mission" sometimes forces some recruiters to break the rules (damned if they do, damned if they don't). This does not justify this, but it helps explain why it happens.

This may help you understand more about the overall military recruiting situation and hopefully prevent you from over-generalizing based on your own bad experience.

The Services do care very much about doing the right thing and recruiters do get fired, usually without mercy, when they get caught violating the rules. When a recruiter was relieved of their duties it usually involved a thorough investigation and depending on the situation, it often was accompanied by some form of punishment. In some cases, a discharge from the service. Needless to say, most punishments are career-ending. Now, on top of that, being fired from recruiting duty because you didn't make your quotas, is also usually career ending. Recruiters often feel like they are between a rock and a hard place because they usually are. So your observation about the effect of the pressure tempting people to do whatever it takes to make their quota is not far off target.

The MEPS is independent from each Service, and is not on any quota. Many recruiters view the MEPS as the enemy, as an obstacle to recruiting. Consequently, some tend to "coach" their applicants on how to answer the medical questions. Yes, it's wrong, but MEPS folks are pretty good about recognizing it.

The reason quotas are such a big deal, besides the fact that the military needs so many bodies to do the work, Congress mandates that each Service be at a certain number (end strength) at the end of the year. That number is tied to the budget and the money they get to operate. If they fall too far below that number because they miss their annual recruiting goals, Congress could reduce the size of the Service and the dollars that go with it. My point is, those recruiting quotas really are do-or-die numbers, even though they still have to be made legally and ethically.

What to Do if You're Told to Lie

So, what should you do if your recruiter encourages you to commit a crime by lying? Well, that's up to you. You can listen to the recruiter and take your chances. You can tell him/her "No!" and stick to your guns. You can request or find a different recruiter. Or, you can help stop this unlawful practice by making an official complaint. Understand that making an official complaint may not result in prosecution of the recruiter (it depends upon how much evidence there is), but it will darn sure make sure that the recruiter's supervisors are aware that something wrong might be going on. That's the only way they can correct a problem situation (or a problem recruiter). If you can somehow locate the address or phone number of the recruiter's immediate commander, that's the best place to make your complaint. If not, you can write to the following:

Air Force Inspector General
Air Force Recruiting Service
Randolph AFB, TX 78150

Army Inspector General
US Army Recruiting
Fort Knox, KY 40121

Navy Inspector General
5722 Integrity Dr
Bldg 768
Millington, TN 38054

Marine Corps (East Coast) Commanding General
Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD)
Parris Island, SC 29905

Marine Corps (West Coast) Commanding General
Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD)
San Diego, CA 92140