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.

Education-Based Military Programs

Members of the U.S. Congress from each congressional district offer Military Academy Appointments which result in a tuition-free education (2004 West Point). To attend any of the academies, one must obtain letters of recommendation from one local Congressman, two U.S. Senators, and the Vice President of the United States. Potential cadets must be able to obtain a high school diploma; pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery); have an acceptable GPA; and pass physical fitness tests and medical exams. The Marine Corp does not have its own academy; Marine cadets attend Annapolis, the Naval academy.

ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps. ROTC cadets move up the ranks by obtaining high PFT (Physical Fitness Test) scores, exhibiting strong leadership qualities, and having competitive academic scores. Both ROTC and Military Academy graduates enter the military as commissioned officers. Those who are interested in the ROTC Program may attend a university in Arizona or anywhere in the United States that has an ROTC unit. Arizona schools offering ROTC Programs are: Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Students with disabilities may be accepted into an ROTC program if:

  • they can meet the physical, medical, and academic (ASVAB) entry requirements; and
  • they can handle the ROTC coursework, both academically and physically, without assistance.

ROTC programs are “competitive,” meaning that a student has to compete against other students for entry into the program and/or scholarships. Students may attend an ROTC program by:

  • applying for competitive ROTC scholarships,
  • self-paying, or
  • receiving other non-ROTC types of scholar-ships, grants, or student loans.
  • ROTC cadets must be eligible for active duty before they enroll in the program. Cadets must be able to show acceptable scores on the ASVAB and SAT or ACT. (The average SAT score for an ROTC scholarship is 1200 and for the ACT, it is 24). Entry ASVAB scores vary with each branch.

At the university level, students with disabilities can receive appropriate accommodations for core classes. Due to the fact the ROTC programs are for military preparedness, they are not required to comply with ADA provisions. All cadets must be able to handle the ROTC academic and physical components without accommodations. For example, a student with a learning disability might be able to complete the ROTC courses without outside help, pass the physical fitness and medical portions, yet may need accommodations for English and math requirements for college graduation. For the college core classes, the cadet is able to seek needed accommodations or services through the Disabilities Compliance Office on campus.

Reserves, National Guards, Coast Guard

These branches are ideal for those who wish to stay closer to home. The Reserves and National Guards allow men and women to serve two days a month plus two weeks per year for 4–6 years. This reduced time commitment allows the enlistee to attend college if they wish, or to be employed outside of their military commitment. Keep in mind, however, that Reservists can be activated by the President during wartime to serve in other countries or combat areas, just like a full-time active duty soldier.

Officer’s training programs and financial assistance are offered to Reservists attending an accredited college or university full-time. Upon graduating with a four-year degree, he/she has the option of full-time active duty status with their preferred branch of the military as a commissioned officer, or can serve as an officer in the National Guards or Reserves. Reservists are eligible for the GI Bill, which provides financial assistance for continuing education during or after their service commitment is completed.

Unlike the Reserves and National Guards, the Coast Guard is a full-time position. Enlistees are stationed along the U.S. coastline. Those wishing to become officers may attend the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, or enter with a four-year degree. Entry into the academy or service is similar to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Coast Guard personnel are eligible for the GI Bill, which provides financial assistance for continuing education during or after their service commitment is completed.


Military Academies

Air Force, U.S. Air Force Academy

Army, West Point,

Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard Academy,

Navy/Marine, Annapolis,

US Armed Forces

Civil Air Patrol,, 602-392-7503

Reserves and Guards: Reserves (contact preferred branch),; Air National Guard, 800-TO-GO-ANG; and

Army National Guard, 800-GO-GUARD

U.S. Air Force Recruitment Center,, 800-423-USAF

U.S. Army Recruiting Office,, 800-USA-ARMY

U.S. Coast Guard,, US Naval Recruitment Center,, 800-USA-NAVY

U.S. Marine Recruitment Center,, 800-MARINES

Arizona Universities ROTC Programs

Arizona State University (Tempe),, Army, Navy-Marine, Air Force ROTC, 480-965-9011, Disability Resource 480-965-1234

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (Prescott), www., Air Force ROTC, & Civil Air Patrol, 800-888-3728,

Disability Resource 928-777-3700.

Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff),, Army, Navy-Marine, Air Force ROTC, 888-MORE-NAU, Disability Resource, 928-523-8773

University of Arizona (Tucson),, Army, Navy-Marine, Air Force ROTC, 520-621-3705, Disability Resource 520-621-3705


Academy Recruitment Officer. (March 2002). Email interview. San Diego, CA: US Coast Guard Academy.

Army Recruiters. (2001, January). Telephone interviews. Casa Grande and Phoenix, AZ: US Army Recruiting.

Deputy Assistant to Military Personnel. (2001, April). Telephone interview. Washington, DC: US Naval Department, Disability/ADA Compliance Office.

Major DeValle. (2001, March). Telephone interview. Casa Grande, AZ: Casa Grande Union High School Marine Corps – JROTC.

NROTC Instructor. (2001, March). Email interview. Tucson, AZ: U of A Navy ROTC. Captain Evancho. AFROTC Instructor. (2001, February). Email interview. Tempe, AZ: ASU Air Force ROTC.

Sergeant Morrow. (2001, March). Email interviews. Casa Grande, AZ: Arizona Army National Guard.

United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1999). Regulations concerning Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity: 29 CFR Part 1614. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. (2002). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Part 104 – Nondiscrimiation on the basis of handicap in activities receiving federal assistance. Washington, DC.