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Can you join the Military or Peace Corps with Food Allergies?

Serving with Food Allergies

by Emma Mizrahi-Powell

Food allergies can feel like a barrier for people who wish to volunteer, whether it is joining the military or the Peace Corps. Many service organizations station members in remote locations with limited food and healthcare options. For this reason, many organizations (such as the military and Peace Corps) consider a history of food allergies as a disqualifying condition for people who want to join.

Military and Food Allergies

The Armed Forces are allowed to bar people with allergies because they are exempt from disability discrimination legislation.

Even if the military wasn't exempt from this legislation, the ability to eat any food is considered an occupational requirement for serving personnel, so this discrimination would likely still be allowed. A history of food allergies is a disqualifying medical condition for individuals seeking to join the military.

People with venom allergies (such as wasp or bee stings) may be eligible if they have been desensitized with immunotherapy and no longer need to carry an EpiPen.

Although having allergies may lead to your disqualification from military service, do not lie about your allergies when applying. It is essential to be completely honest and forthright in your disclosure of these medical conditions to the military, as a failure to disclose a condition will automatically disqualify you.

If you are excluded from the military due to a history of food allergies, you can request a waiver and make an appointment with a military-approved allergist, who will require that you complete and pass an oral food challenge. Prospective recruits with oral allergy syndrome may also qualify for a waiver.

Peace Corps and Food Allergies

Due to the lack of available health infrastructure in Peace Corps countries, the Peace Corps typically does not clear applicants who have a variety of allergic conditions, including life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, multiple allergens, multiple antibiotic allergies, poorly controlled asthma, or severe eczema.

While each medical application is assessed on a case-by-case basis, these conditions will likely prevent someone's acceptance if they are not likely to complete the 27 months of service required without the threat of unreasonable disruption due to allergic reactions. If a potential volunteer only has mild or moderate non-life-threatening food allergies, it is possible that they will be able to serve after signing a form promising to carry an EpiPen at all times.

Don't Give Up Trying

Don't preemptively disqualify yourself from pursuing your goals! Don't be discouraged from applying to serve just because you have a food allergy—recruiters can always discuss your options and specific circumstance with you in more detail.

It is also essential to make sure you have a severe food allergy.

Often, allergy testing can produce false positive results, especially when a broad range of allergens are tested at once without reasonable suspicion of the patient's allergy to them. Therefore, some people have been given a label of food allergy in childhood, but have never actually had any allergic reactions to food. It is also possible that people who had mild food allergies in childhood have grown out of their allergies. Finally, some allergies can be misdiagnosed as a specific food allergy when the patient has oral allergy syndrome, which is applicable for a waiver in many organizations. It is essential to clarify the distinction between the two.

Learn more about allergy testing in episode 5