Have Bunions & Want To Serve Your Country? Here’s What You Need To Know

Not everyone is able to join the United States Armed Forces. There are medical conditions that can disqualify someone from joining, including conditions of the feet. To serve in the military, service members are required to comfortably wear government-issued footwear, which can be difficult or unobtainable if the person has a deformity in a foot. One such condition is called hallux valgus, which is more commonly known as a bunion. Here's what you need to know if you have bunions and are interested in joining the military. 

What is a bunion?  

A bunion is a bump at the side of the base of the big toe. It's caused when your big toe leans or pushes towards the other toes. When there is a visible bump, or a bunion, it means the bony framework of your foot is not normal. Essentially, the bones in the front of the foot are out of alignment, which can cause pain when walking, running, or standing. You may feel a burning sensation and possibly numbness. The bunion may be sore, red, and inflamed. 

Why can bunions disqualify you from serving? 

Bunions will make it difficult to wear military footwear and perform your duties. Also, what's important to understand about this condition is that it is a progressive disorder. That means, if you have a bunion now, you can expect it to worsen over time. Because of this, particularly if your bunions are symptomatic, you may be disqualified from joining the armed forces.

What can you do to improve your chances of enlisting? 

Before you go to MEPS (a military entrance processing station), it would be a good idea to see a podiatrist who can evaluate your bunions and determine whether or not there are things you can do to improve them or remove them. While non-surgical treatment can help improve your bunions, they can take time. Even so, you should start bunion treatment as soon as possible.

Your podiatrist may recommend custom orthotic devices that can be worn to reduce the angle of the big toes and, therefore, eventually improve your bunions. If necessary, surgery can be done to remove the bunion and correct the bony structure of the foot. If you do take the surgical route, you should keep your recruiter informed about your prognosis, especially if you are expected to participate in poolie or new recruit functions such as physical training. 

Keep in mind that you may be able to get a medical waiver depending on your current and future prognosis.

How can you get a medical waiver if you are disqualified at MEPS? 

If you are disqualified for your bunions when you go to MEPS, don't give up hope. You can put in for a medical waiver. It's important to continue using orthotic devices and other non-surgical treatments throughout the process. You'll need to ask your recruiter for the specific details of obtaining a medical waiver. To do this, you will need to have another medical evaluation from a doctor or a specialist. 

The podiatrist who treats you for your bunions can provide this medical evaluation and provide you with a letter if he or she finds that your bunions should not interfere with your capacity to serve in the military. The podiatrist should include your medical history, including treatments you've undergone for the bunions, the state of your current condition, and the prognosis for the future. You'll need to give these documents to your recruiter who can then forward them to the Surgeon General for further evaluation.

Contact a podiatrist to learn more about caring for and properly treating your bunions.