There’s no doubt that individuals with Tourette Syndrome can be successful in the armed forces. The French author André Malreaux, for example, served as both a field soldier and a pilot in the Spanish Republican cause and in a French tank unit in World War II. He even managed to escape a Nazi prison camp after his capture. He was a highly decorated veteran as a result.
Service in the US Military
In the case of the US military, however, successful careers for people with TS happen only infrequently. If military recruiters do their job as directed, no one who has ever taken a psychiatric medication (including most of the drugs used to suppress tics) or who has ever been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition will be admitted.
But occasionally military rules are set aside; recruitment officers can and do take a case-by-case approach. In the current environment, an individual whose TS symptoms have all but disappeared by adulthood and who no longer takes medication may well join the military.
TS Can Be Exacerbated by Stress
Since TS symptoms tend to be exacerbated by stress, however, even the most patriotic and motivated would-be armed-forces member should consider whether any aspect of TS could prove to be a danger to himself or others under dangerous conditions. Since all military personnel must be prepared to undertake combat, a person with TS must think long and hard before deciding to enlist.
In 2004 a well-trained and experienced Guardsman sent to Iraq to provide security for Special Forces troops had to be sent back home when stress severely exacerbated his tics. If you know in your heart that this could happen to you, you may want to consider an alternative form of national service. Even if you can keep your ticcing manageable with medications, those meds may not be available on the front lines.
Tell the Truth About Your TS
No matter how confident you are about your fitness for service, do not be tempted to hedge the truth. Potential recruits are legally required to reveal their medical history, and the military has the right to access all of your childhood medical records. Lying to a recruiter is a felony.
The best option is to be completely honest: a waiver may be possible if you pass a military medical examination, your past health records check out, and you have demonstrated success in school and/or work without the use of medication.
Regardless, would-be recruits with TS don’t need to feel stigmatized: the barriers exist for individuals with hundreds of common medical conditions, including asthma and allergies.