In the midst of an historic recruiting crisis, two U.S. senators are pressing the Defense Department on whether a new medical screening system is hindering recruitment.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a letter Wednesday seeking answers about whether Military Health System Genesis — a medical records platform that the military first used for screening recruits last year — has slowed the recruitment process by forcing qualified applicants to secure medical waivers.
“While some of these flags merit review, the system is also delaying enlistees with manageable or long-healed injuries,” the letter states. “This may delay recruits’ enlistment processes if medical conditions require applicants to obtain medical waivers, which can take weeks or even months to be completed.”
The letter cites a Military Times report this spring in which recruiters from across the services alleged Genesis was making it harder to fill the ranks as the military struggles to meet its recruiting targets.
These shortfalls are expected to leave the Army, Navy and Air Force well short of their recruiting goals when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“It is essential that recruits are healthy enough to enlist in the military,” the Senate Armed Services Committee members wrote. “However, DoD needs to examine the steps it is taking to ensure that the process of enlisting and obtaining waivers does not impede the recruitment process.”
Genesis has complicated recruiting because, when applicants try to join, the system pulls all their health records, often unearthing medical conditions that require them to seek waivers or that disqualify them entirely, recruiters said.
Some of these conditions may have healed long ago and have no bearing on applicants’ potential to serve, according to recruiters.
As the enlistment process stretches out, some young people lose interest in serving, recruiters said.
“It comes to the point where they’re like, ‘This is too much work, I’m just gonna go apply at Starbucks,’” a Navy recruiter told Military Times earlier this year.
A Pentagon watchdog report from May confirmed that medical waiver processing times had grown across the services.
Warren and Blumenthal’s letter cites the chief of naval personnel, Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, reporting that the time between first interview and contract for Navy applicants rose from 33.8 days to 63.4 days after Genesis was put in place.
Even after making some fixes, the processing time for prospective sailors was still at 59.9 days, according to the letter. The Navy is working with the Center for Naval Analyses “to better understand the root cause of these delays,” according to the senators’ letter.
“We urge the other services to also evaluate these delays and implement policy changes as soon as possible to address these inefficiencies,” the senators wrote.
Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas, the head of Air Force Recruiting Service, said in February that the congressionally mandated Genesis system “wasn’t ready for deployment in recruiting.”
Warren and Blumenthal’s letter also cites Military Times reporting showing that the number of applicants seeking waivers has soared, though the Pentagon’s data was inconsistent with that of the services and the Army refused to provide data. Army Times reporting revealed the branch mobilized Reserve doctors to get through a medical waiver backlog.
The senators requested data on processing delays and waivers, and asked what steps the military is taking to evaluate changes to what disqualifies applicants from service.
Defense Department officials said this spring that Genesis does not reduce the population of qualified applicants — it just confirms their physical and mental readiness to serve. Officials did not answer questions regarding whether they believed Genesis had played a role in the current recruiting crisis.
In Wednesday’s letter, the senators also sought answers regarding how DoD protects the private patient records in Genesis.
The Genesis system is based on a product by Cerner, which Oracle acquired in June 2022. In its role as a broker of online data, Oracle has come under scrutiny for alleged violations of people’s privacy, the senators wrote.
Warren and Blumenthal also raised concerns that service members and their families may need to provide a credit card number to log on to the system, potentially creating a barrier to access.
Recruiters previously told Military Times that one way Genesis hampered recruiting is by making it harder for applicants to downplay medical conditions. It used to be that applicants could get into the military by fudging aspects of their self-reported medical histories, recruiters said.
“Now that Genesis exists, we can no longer hide things,” one Marine recruiter told Military Times.
The letter from Warren and Blumenthal didn’t address that aspect of Genesis’ reported effect on recruiting.
The senators requested answers from Austin’s office by Oct. 11.
The Office of the Secretary for Defense didn’t immediately respond to Military Times’ request for comment on the letter.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.