If you hope to enlist in the military and have been diagnosed with conditions of chronic asthma, including reactive airway disease, exercise-induced bronchospasms, or asthmatic bronchitis, you will be disqualified from joining. If you have a mild case of asthma, the examining physician will determine if the condition poses a risk to you and those you serve with. Additional tests may be ordered to determine the severity of your condition. A medical military waiver may also be an option.
Asthma can cause a sudden tightness in your chest and inflammation, which narrow your airways causing a chain reaction of wheezing, coughing, and shortness or loss of breath to the extent that it becomes life threatening. The Military Standards of Medical Fitness states that if you have chronic asthma and have had it for most of your life, then you will be disqualified from joining. The standards are clear-cut and closely followed.
The process of enlistment and medical status determination begins at the recruiter's office. An individual fills out the medical prescreening form, which is sent by the recruiter to the Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPS), at which time an appointment is made for a medical examination. A MEPS physician reviews the form and determines if there are any potential medical issues that may preclude enlistment. You may be required to bring a copy of your medical records to your physical exam.
Results and Record Review
The physician will review your physical examination results and medical records essentially trying to ascertain if you have a chronic or acute condition. If the diagnosis of asthma is not clear-cut, then additional evaluations may be ordered, such as a pulmonary function test which will determine the extent of your condition and if continued medical intervention is necessary. If you have been disqualified without a definitive diagnosis, you may apply for a military medical waiver.
The Military Standards of Medical Fitness outlines the reasons for referral to a Military Evaluation Board and how a secondary evaluation of your case is carried out. Based on the results of additional testing, the board will determine if the severity of your asthma will prevent you from completing basic training and continued service, and whether it will create an undue hardship or hazard to you or others particularly in a combat situation, essentially deciding if your condition is chronic or acute.
The Medical Review Board will order a Methacholine Challenge Test (MCT) to determine if you have asthma, and to what extent. A respiratory therapist will administer the MCT, also called a bronchoprovocation challenge, and will ask you to breathe in methacholine. After a few minutes, she will ask you to breathe into a tube connected to a machine that registers your forced expiratory volume (FEV1). If it drops substantially, it's a good indication that you have some form or reactive airway disease, or asthma.