Exploring Military Options for Students with Disabilities

By — State: Arizona Department of Education
Updated on May 1, 2014

Since the inception of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990, more opportunities exist for students with disabilities after they graduate from high school. Numerous individuals with disabilities currently work for, or have worked with, the U.S. Military. Their service may have been as part of the civilian workforce or as enlisted or commissioned personnel. The differences between these three areas and military education programs are addressed in this document.

Some of our more prominent American military leaders had attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities, yet perservered to accomplish great things. General Westmoreland served as the U.S. Superintendent of West Point, the commander of the U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam, and the Army’s Chief of Staff. President John F. Kennedy served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, a U.S. Congressman, a U.S. Senator, and the 35th President of the United States.

The Civilian Workforce

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all have a civilian workforce (Civil Service). This workforce is composed of civilians who are employed on U.S. military installations; in everything from barbershops and bowling alleys, to engineering, education and nuclear science positions. These civilians also make up a large part of the work force in companies that contract with the U.S. Government. McDonnell-Douglas and Raytheon are examples of companies that hire individuals with disabilities under the protections afforded by the ADA.

A federal mandate states that all U.S. Military bases must have 10% of their civilian workforce composed of individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Navy proudly boasts that they have been ranked # 5 in the nation among all employers—private sector corporations included—who employ individuals with disabilities. Many civilian positions require applicants to be eligible for civil service. There are some civilian positions that require previous military experience. Visit for more information on civil service exams/qualifications.

Enlisted vs. Commissioned

The United States Military requires that all enlisted and commissioned personnel be ready for “active duty.” This means one must at all times be physically, emotionally, and psychologically ready to serve their country. This may mean going to war when called upon to do so. This “moment’s notice” criteria also applies to those serving in the Reserves or in the Army and Air National Guards.

Enlisted men/women can enter the military without a college degree. An enlistee is able to move up the ladder to become a non-commissioned officer with or without a college degree. The military will allow an individual to obtain a college degree after entering, though this can be a difficult task. Often, the enlistee is required to serve fulltime on active duty while taking college courses on the side.

Students who are worried about taking college classes, but are still interested in a military career, can take advantage of the enlisted segment of the armed forces. Students can enter the military and be trained for jobs using hands-on skills. Military Occupational Schools (MOS) are job-specific. They do not require typical core subjects like math, English, or science, which are needed for a college degree. Depending on the specific job or job field that an enlistee chooses, there will be aspects of these subjects included in the school program.

A commissioned officer is an individual who enters the military after obtaining a college degree, or obtains his/her degree after entering the military. In both cases, the person is considered a commissioned officer once they earn a four-year degree. There are programs that provide officer’s training and/or military scholarships to those interested in entering the armed forces after college.

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