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Does BPD Disqualify You From the Military?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Recent studies have indicated a higher prevalence of BPD among military veterans, especially those exposed to combat situations or other traumatic events during their service. The stressors associated with military life and the experiences of war can contribute to the development of BPD symptoms. While military veterans are commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it's noteworthy that BPD is also a prevalent challenge they may face.

Depressed militairy soldier

In this article, we will explore the unique challenges faced by military veterans with BPD, the military's stance on BPD diagnoses, and how BPD intersects with other mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is essential to recognize the significance of this issue and address the unique challenges military veterans face.

Can You Have BPD in the Military?

Yes, individuals can have BPD while being military veterans. BPD is a mental health condition that can affect people from various backgrounds, including those who have served in the military. It's important to note that BPD itself does not automatically disqualify someone from military service. However, the severity of BPD symptoms and their impact on an individual's ability to perform their duties may be considered during the enlistment process. Military veterans who experience BPD or suspect they may have it should seek appropriate evaluation and support to manage their condition effectively.

"War leaves scars that run deeper than the eye can see, and for some military veterans, BPD is one of those scars."

Does BPD disqualify you from the military?

If a service member is diagnosed with BPD while in the military, the outcome can vary depending on the severity of the condition and its impact on the individual's ability to perform their duties. In some cases, individuals with BPD may receive treatment and counseling to help them manage their symptoms while remaining in service. However, if the condition significantly impairs their performance, poses a risk to themselves or others, or is unresponsive to treatment, they may be medically discharged.

7 challenges faced by Military Veterans with BPD

1. Dissociation: Disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. Military veterans with BPD may experience episodes of dissociation during which they feel as though they are observing themselves from outside their bodies, or they may feel disconnected from reality. For instance, they might suddenly feel as if they're in a dreamlike state, unable to fully grasp their surroundings.

For example: A veteran who experienced traumatic events during their service might suddenly find themselves unable to recall important details about those experiences, even though they were previously able to describe them in vivid detail. They may feel like they are watching a movie of their life instead of actively participating in it.

2. Paranoia: Involves irrational suspicions or fears of being persecuted, betrayed, or harmed by others. Military veterans with BPD may exhibit paranoid thoughts that can strain their relationships and lead to social withdrawal or hostility.

For example: A veteran with BPD might become convinced that the people around them are plotting against them or spreading negative rumors, even when there's no evidence to support these beliefs. As a result, they may isolate themselves, making it difficult to maintain healthy social connections.

3. Reintegration into Civilian Life: For military veterans, transitioning from a structured and disciplined military life to civilian life can be challenging. Military veterans with BPD may struggle even more due to their difficulty in managing emotions and impulsivity. The loss of the military support system can intensify feelings of isolation and inadequacy.

4. Combat Trauma and Physical Injury: Military veterans who have experienced combat often carry the emotional and psychological scars of war. Witnessing or participating in traumatic events can result in PTSD and moral injury, where veterans struggle with moral conflicts and guilt. Many military veterans also suffer physical injuries and disabilities from their service, which can limit mobility and add challenges to transitioning to civilian life.

5. Loss of Identity: The military provides a strong sense of identity and belonging. Upon leaving the service, many military veterans may face an identity crisis, trying to find their place in a society that may not fully understand their experiences. The struggle to find one's place in society can be accompanied by a heightened fear of abandonment and identity disturbance, which are core features of BPD.

6. Employment Challenges: BPD can complicate military veterans' efforts to find and maintain employment in the civilian sector. Their military skills don't always directly translate to the civilian job market, and some employers may not fully appreciate the qualities veterans bring to the workforce. The emotional volatility and impulsivity associated with BPD may also affect job performance and relationships with colleagues and supervisors.

For example: A veteran with BPD might react with overwhelming anger if a supervisor provides constructive feedback on their work, interpreting the feedback as a personal attack. This outburst of anger can damage workplace relationships and jeopardize their job stability.

7. Substance Abuse: Coping with trauma and stress, some military veterans turn to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate. Substance abuse issues can compound mental health challenges like BPD.

For example: Imagine a military veteran who served in a combat zone and experienced traumatic events during their deployment. Upon returning to civilian life, they struggle with the emotional aftermath of their experiences, which includes symptoms of BPD, such as intense mood swings, impulsivity, and difficulty managing their emotions. Due to the overwhelming emotional turmoil, veterans may turn to substances like alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate and temporarily alleviate their emotional pain. Substance abuse provides a brief escape from the intense emotions and distress associated with BPD.

However, this self-medicating behavior can create a harmful cycle. The veteran's substance abuse not only fails to address the underlying issues related to BPD but also compounds their mental health challenges. Substance abuse can further destabilize their emotional state, lead to impulsive and high-risk behaviors, strain relationships, and hinder their ability to seek and engage in effective mental health treatment.

Can BPD coexist with other mental health conditions commonly found in military veterans?

Yes, BPD frequently co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse. This combination of conditions can create intricate challenges for military veterans, particularly combat veterans, who are at an elevated risk of developing PTSD due to exposure to traumatic events. BPD and PTSD can intersect in several ways:

Emotional Dysregulation: Both BPD and PTSD are characterized by emotional dysregulation. Military veterans with both conditions may experience intense mood swings, making it challenging to cope with traumatic memories and daily life stressors.

Impulsivity and Self-Harm: Individuals with BPD may engage in impulsive behaviors or self-harm as a way to cope with emotional distress. They may engage in high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse or reckless driving, as a means of escape or self-soothing, putting themselves and others at risk. When combined with PTSD, these behaviors can be triggered by traumatic memories, leading to a dangerous cycle.

"While the wounds of war may be invisible, the strength it takes to battle BPD is undeniable."

Recognizing the co-occurrence of BPD with conditions like PTSD and addressing these issues through effective treatments and support networks is crucial. Treatment options, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and a strong support network, can significantly improve BPD management in military veterans. With the right interventions and understanding, military veterans can overcome these challenges, lead fulfilling lives post-service, and contribute positively to society.

Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

Despite significant efforts to reduce stigma, some military veterans still encounter hesitation when seeking mental health treatment due to concerns about being perceived as weak or unstable. Military veterans with BPD may worry that disclosing their diagnosis will lead to negative perceptions not only related to mental health but also to the specific challenges associated with BPD, such as impulsivity and relationship difficulties.

"The battlefield doesn't always stay on the battlefield. For many military veterans, BPD becomes a battle they face every day."

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Are there specific triggers or stressors in the military environment that can worsen BPD symptoms?

Yes, the high-stress nature of military life, including deployments, combat experiences, and extended separations from loved ones, can worsen BPD symptoms over time. These stressors can intensify emotional instability and impulsivity.

2. What are the common symptoms of BPD in military veterans?

Common symptoms of BPD in military veterans include mood swings, intense fear of abandonment, identity disturbances, chronic feelings of emptiness, and recurrent self-harming behaviors. It's essential to note that symptoms can vary from person to person.

3. How can society reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues in military veterans and encourage them to seek help?

Reducing stigma involves community education and awareness campaigns that emphasize the importance of mental health in veterans. Encouraging open dialogue about mental health and sharing stories of recovery can also help break down the barriers.


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