As of September 1, the Israel Defense Forces is instituting a new policy to allow draftees diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - commonly called ADHD - to join combat units.
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Until now, draftees who said they were taking medication to treat their ADHD were limited in possibilities for military service and were excluded from combat duties. The limitations frequently led young people who had been treated in high school with medication to stop taking it before predraft medical assessments so as not to hurt their chances of getting into training for a combat unit, or they would obtain the drug on the black market as that way, it would not appear on their record.
Due to the rising numbers of draftees diagnosed with ADHD, the IDF Medical Corps has new regulations defining ADHD as a condition that can accompany any medical assessment, even the highest level, which in the IDF is given the numerical value of 97.
The assessment will only be downgraded if the condition impairs the draftee's functioning.
The change is the outcome of deliberations by a committee of experts in the IDF Medical Corps, including psychologists and neurologists.
Some 51,000 young people in Israel under the age of 18 are diagnosed with ADHD, making it one of the most common conditions in this age group.
According to the IDF's chief of mental health, Col. Dr. Eyal Prochter, "the purpose of the change is to make clear that there are good medications nowadays for ADHD, which are common treatments and some of them are long-term. Only if a soldier is not performing well on medication is there justification to reduce their medical assessment."
Under the new regulations, draftees diagnosed with ADHD but whose functioning is not impaired will now be eligible for the highest medical rating and therefore eligible to join a variety of combat units.
If their functioning is impaired, they may receive a low rating, but will not necessarily be confined to service close to home.
"Our message is that the fact that people are taking medication in itself will no longer influence the medical assessment as it did in the past," Prochter said.
He noted that "despite side effects, ADHD medications are essential and do not impair functioning either in driving or in military activity in the field. They also reduce involvement in violence by ADHD sufferers and the attraction to drugs like marijuana. The social sigma of the medication is not justified," Prochter said.
The IDF also wants to utilize the new regulation to increase reporting of the condition by draftees. It is believed that up to 10 percent of teens and 5 percent of adults suffer from ADHD, but may go undiagnosed.
According to Prochter, "there's no need to be afraid of treatment. From now on, a combat soldier can continue to obtain medication through the army clinic and will not have to lie."
Still, ADHD sufferers, even if they have an assessment of 97, will be barred from certain military tasks requiring special concentration, including lookouts and air traffic controllers.
Prochter said that although some roads will be closed to new inductees with ADHD, "they will still be able to do high-quality service without having to hide anything."
Dr. Iris Manor, who heads the ADHD section of the health social network Kmoni, says the new regulations will be good for young people. "ADHD can be dangerous if it goes untreated. But once treated, driving and learning abilities are completely intact."
Manor said the army's new approach would allow young people to realize their potential without being stigmatized as suffering from a disability.
The active ingredient in the common ADHD medications Ritalin and Concerta is methylphenidate, which is defined as a drug requiring documentation and reporting by pharmacies dispensing it.
According to the pharmacies department in the Health Ministry, Ritalin and Concerta are legally sold to approximately 35,000 Israelis. Some 5 percent of sufferers do not respond to the treatment and require alternatives, such as Focalin, Vyvanse and Strattera, which are not among the medicines that are paid for in the state health basket.