I Cannot Tell a Lie

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

Let me preface this article by saying that I personally know dozens of military recruiters. Every single one that I am personally acquainted with 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.

I am also aware that some recruits do not inform their recruiters of disqualifying factors, and -- when they are later caught lying -- they attempt to blame the recruiter, saying "my recruiter told me to lie."

The Truth of the Matter

Unfortunately, it's become obvious to me, based upon emails I've received, that 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 just a few examples (out literally hundreds):

  • 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.
  • An applicant is advised by his recruiter to lie about his home-schooling (he had a GED). After he had almost completed his technical school, he is summoned by the commander and instructed to cooperate in an ongoing investigation against the recruiter. Because of his cooperation, he got lucky. He wasn't discharged or court-martialed. Instead, he received nonjudicial punishment (article 15), reducing him from the rank of E-3 to E-1, and lost his security clearance which resulted in the loss of his guaranteed job.
  • 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).
  • After serving for five years, an Air Force NCO, stationed at Okinawa, underwent a routine security clearance reinvestigation. The investigation discovered a previous, unreported period of service in the Navy. The NCO was court-martialed for fraudulent enlistment, sentenced to nine months in prison, and a dishonorable discharge. (Note: In this case, the recruiter was unaware of the previous military service).
  • Based on the advice of his recruiter, a Marine recruit failed to report that he had been diagnosed in the past with depression. He made it through basic training but became depressed during infantry training. The medical officials located and obtained his civilian medical records and discovered the diagnosis. He was given an "Under Other Than Honorable Conditions" (UOTHC) Discharge.
  • 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 fradulent 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).
  • At the tender age of 11, a Navy recruit stole a vehicle and wrecked it. The family made restitution, and most of the charges were dropped, and the juvenile underwent a period of probation. The recruit "forgot" to mention the incident during the enlistment process. The Navy discovered the incident during a background investigation for a Security Clearance. The recruit was discharged for fraudulent enlistment, just a couple of weeks before Boot Camp graduation.
  • An Air Force recruit had a history of childhood asthma. He had experienced no incident of asthma since the age of 12. The recruiter advised the recruit to lie about the childhood asthma, informing the recruit that there was no way that the military could search all the medical records in the World, and discover it. The recruiter told him to make sure he answered "No" to every question at MEPs during the medical examination. The recruiter told him that "N.O." stood for "New Opportunities," and "Y.E.S." stood for "Your Enlistment Stops." The recruit entered the Air Force and graduated basic training. While doing PT at technical school, he had an asthma attack and collapsed. He was taken to the hospital, where the medical professionals diagnosed asthma. A check of his enlistment paperwork showed no reported history of asthma. Officials simply made a few phone calls to hospitals located in the areas where the recruit lived in the past (that information is on the enlistment application) and found his medical records. The recruit was discharged for fraudulent enlistment, just days before technical school graduation. He received an RE-Code of "4" which means he can never, ever enlist in any military service. 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.
  • 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.

    The above are just a few examples. In the past three years, I've been contacted by dozens and dozens of former members of the military who were discharged or court-martialed for fraudulent enlistment (court-martials for fraudulent enlistment are rare, but they do happen). 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

    Let's get straight to the point. 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.

    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, which states:

    "Any person subject to this chapter who effects an enlistment or appointment in or a separation from the armed forces of any person who is known to him to be ineligible for that enlistment, appointment, or separation because it is prohibited by law, regulation, or order shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

    The Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) lists the maximum punishment for this article as: dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement at hard labor for 5 years.

    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.

    Let me say this again: A recruiter who encourages you to commit a felony offense in order to enlist in the military is not your friend. He/she could care less whether or not you are later discharged, tried by court-martial, given nonjudicial punishment, or lose your guaranteed job.


    They'll Find Out

    I've some recruiters say, "The recruiter's job is to get you in the military, and the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)'s job is to disqualify you. They'll give you a 'scare speech' at MEPs, but don't pay any attention to it. As long as you don't tell them, there's no way they can find out."

    ABSOLUTELY FALSE! MEPS' job is the same as the recruiter's job. 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).

    There is no RIGHT to serve in the armed forces of the United States. The military services have the absolute right to determine who is qualified and who is not qualified to serve. Individual recruiters are not authorized or qualified to make these 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.

    I should mention at this point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a recruiter giving you instructions on how to answer questions at MEPs, as long as he/she is not encouraging you to be dishonest. 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?

    Recruiting is a hard, hard, duty. 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. From a former Marine Corps Recruiter:

    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.

    Ahhh...where to begin. I spent about 9 years in recruiting from the station level to the Headquarters level...and even in between. (Yes, the Marines) There are no good answers on how to make a better system. Believe me when I tell you, the Services and the large majority of all the recruiters out are all doing the best they can under the circumstances. The resources are tight, the quotas are high, every recruiter means one less person out fighting the war, and yes, the pressure is intense and continuous. I won't say any more on how hard it is or it will seem like I'm making excuses for those who break the rules.

    I will tell you that 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. Each firing of a recruiter (relief as we called 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. When widespread offenses occur in an entire recruiting station or the local command is responsible for allowing bad recruiting practices, they may fire several officers and senior supervisors as well.

    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 what ever 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 recuiting. 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.

    Better minds than yours and mine have tried to come up with a more effective system. DoD has worked on it. The Services meet and try to exchange ideas about what works and what doesn't. There are countless studies, investigations, and experiments. Some Services have hand-picked recruiters, some take only volunteers, they've tried team quotas, no quotas, added more officers, created career recruiters to keep the best ones out there, hired marketing/ad agencies, hired civilians to recruit, you name it, they are trying it.

    The reason quotas are such a big deal, beisides 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 thier 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.

    Anyway, I apologize if this comes across like I'm preaching or making excuses for those few recruiters who cross the line. There really is no excuse for it, but as much as we all would like to think that all recuiters are hard working, highly ethical, totally honest, and the best of the best, the fact remains that they are really just human like everyone else. Most really believe in the product they are trying to sell and do the best they can until they get back to the job they enlisted for.

    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
    U.S. 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


    What if You've Already Lied. Is it too Late?

    So, what if you're already in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)? Is it too late to tell the truth? No! As a rule, the military never prosecutes members in the DEP (I don't know of a single case where anyone in the DEP was ever criminally prosecuted by the military). At best, correcting false information on your enlistment paperwork while in the DEP will result in an angry recruiter and delay in when you can ship out to basic while a waiver is considered. At worse, you will be released from the DEP.

    Being released from the DEP is not the same as a fraudulent entry discharge. In fact, it's not really a discharge at all, because you receive no discharge characterization (i.e., "honorable," "General," or "Under Other Than Honorable"), and you don't receive a DD Form 214 (Record of Discharge). If you are released from the DEP, you can honestly answer "no" to any employment application that asks if you've ever serviced in the military. Additionally, a discharge from the DEP has absolutely no effect on you if you wish to try and join a different military service (a discharge from the DEP may prevent you from joining the same service from who's DEP you were released from, however).

    Once you take that final oath and go on active duty, however, it's a completely different story.

    If you're in the DEP, and you've lied or withheld required information on your enlistment paperwork, it's YOUR responsibility to have it corrected. It's YOUR signature on the forms certifying that the information you've provided is correct and complete. You start with your recruiter. You INSIST that your paperwork be corrected, and you INSIST that you be shown proof of the correction. Tell your recruiter that you will absolutely tell the truth at MEPS on your final shipping day (before you take the active duty oath), even if it means disqualification.

    If your recruiter tries to talk you out of it, don't listen! It's your life, and it's YOU who will suffer the consequences if your false statements are later discovered. If your recruiter absolutely refuses to help you correct the paperwork, inform them politely, but firmly, that if you do not receive assistance, you plan to report them for a violation of Article 84 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You can report them using one of the addresses above, or report them directly to Service Laison at MEPS.