NORTH CHICAGO, IL, US --
With hundreds of medical providers of various specialties working at 65 Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) and two Remote Processing Stations across the country, standardizing the medical qualification process for military applicants is a challenge.
United States Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) took that challenge head on with recent updates to the Supplemental Policy Guidance (SMPG) and Supporting Medical Documentation Review Program (SMDRP).
"Standardization of medical qualification decision making is one of USMEPCOM's top priorities because it is a top priority for our recruiting partners," said Army Col. Megan Stallings, USMEPCOM commander. "Our recruiting partners want to know that their applicants will get the same treatment and timely decision no matter where they go, and these two policy updates are one effort to get after that end state."
When Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 6130.03, Volume 1, Medical Standards for Military Service was updated in November 2022, USMEPCOM began work on interpreting how it would impact medical processing and subsequently updating USMEPCOM’s medical standard operating procedures, the SMPG, internal guidance for MEPS medical providers, and the SMDRP, guidance for providers and recruiters to streamline medical processing.
“The SMPG actually goes through every condition in the DODI (DOD instruction 6130.03) and addresses what our providers should be thinking about with that condition,” said Army Col. Kevin Cummings, USMEPCOM command surgeon. “So, that’s like the bible for our providers. We updated that in December. And then the second policy is the SMDRP. We developed the SMDRP as a guide for our providers and our recruiters, as they are collecting applicant medical history.”
In addition, the updated SMDRP also establishes as new a policy of only allowing MEPS medical providers two records requests per condition disclosed in an applicant’s medical prescreen (DOD Form 2807-2). MEPS medical providers look through each prescreen and determine whether records are needed for any of the conditions listed, and whether documentation already exists via the Health Information Exchange (HIE) on Military Health System (MHS) Genesis.
“One of the most frustrating parts of the interaction in the prescreen process between the recruiters and the applicant, and the MEPS, is the back and forth,” said Cummings. “In an effort to try to get after that, and to provide some structure for both the MEPS and the recruiters, we lay out in the new SMDRP that you get two records requests per condition. The new policy says that after two times, you just authorize the applicant to come in.”
However, just because an applicant is cleared to come into MEPS to begin processing, doesn’t mean that they will be qualified to join. The new policy directs the MEPS medical providers to disqualify an applicant if they feel like there is still insufficient data relating to their prior health condition.
“And so, for the SMDRP, that's the biggest change is that policy adjustment,” said Cummings. “Make two requests. If you can't get it in two requests, then you make your decision. We won't hold the applicant up at MEPCOM any longer. We will move them through the process and then the waiver authority can review.”
It is not uncommon for an applicant processing through MEPS medical to have some sort of disqualifying health condition. However, the process has always included a waiver review by the applicant’s chosen branch of service. For instance, a future Sailor may be ineligible according to DOD instruction, but the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine may be willing to grant a waiver for that individual to join the Navy.
“This really is the big key to emphasize,” said Cummings. “There may be recruiters out there that will say, after two requests, ‘I’m safe, I'm good.’ But that's not the case, because your waiver authority may very well say, ‘You know what, you really did need to get that information.’ And so, the requirement for the information doesn't go away.”
As the United States military celebrates the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, recruiting young men and women to serve in the U.S. military is as challenging as ever. That’s why USMEPCOM is dedicated to ensuring an equitable and standardized processing roadmap for applicants.
While the SMPG is an internal document to MEPS medical providers, the SMDRP is available to the military service recruiting liaisons online at: https://www.mepcom.army.mil/Portals/112/Documents/Recruiters%20and%20Service%20Liaisons/Guides-Instructions/SMDRP_SOP_January%202023.pdf