Epilepsy and the Armed Forces – National Epilepsy Training

People with epilepsy will often find that their career choices are more limited. There are certain roles that are simply unsafe to do and therefore off limits for a person with epilepsy. Equality laws do state that employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities wherever possible to ensure they are able to do the jobs they want safely, but some jobs will remain off limits

Can I join the armed forces with epilepsy? 

It’s a simple question with an unfortunately complicated answer. All branches of the armed forces in the UK (army, RAF and Navy) are currently exempt from the equality laws that are dictated to many employers. What this means is that they can legally refuse to employ people based on a disability, which includes epilepsy. 

This does not mean that it’s impossible to join the armed forces, however, but it does mean that the options tend to be very limited. Certain jobs may be open to people with epilepsy under some conditions, but even these jobs will depend on the type of epilepsy, your seizure history and the treatment you are on. 

What are the criteria for joining the armed forces with epilepsy? 

Let’s start with the conditions under which you would be unable to join the armed forces, these include: 

  • Having been diagnosed with epilepsy and having had more than one seizure since the age of 6 years (or older).
  • Having had a single seizure within the last 5 years from the point of application.

Situations where a person with epilepsy may be considered eligible for employment include: 

  • You had febrile seizures as a child (under the age of 6) and have not had a seizure since. 
  • You have had a single seizure which was more than 5 years ago and have not had once since. 
  • You have a history of childhood absence seizures which started before age 10.

In each of these situations, you must also have been seizure free for more than 5 years to have a chance of being employed by the armed forces in the UK. Even then, there is no guarantee of employment, each application is considered on a case by case basis. 

What happens if you’re already employed by the armed forces? 

For those who are diagnosed whilst employed by the armed forces, or experience their first seizure whilst serving, the situation is a little different. If you have one, isolated incident of a seizure, the common protocol is to be downgraded for 18 months and restricted duties (which will often restrict you from handling weapons, driving or any combat situation).

For more than one seizure, common practice is that you will be medically discharged and considered unfit for active duty in any trade within the armed forces.

People in the armed forces who fail to declare their epilepsy will be administratively discharged for failure to declare during enlistment. It’s incredibly dangerous to enlist without declaring your epilepsy and could also potentially lead to a court martial.

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