Diabetes and Careers in Law Enforcement, Military, and Public Service (including fire department)
Many of my patients who have type 1 diabetes are concerned about their condition preventing them from fulfilling a life-long career ambition. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “blanket bans- laws, regulations or policies that restrict a person from employment simply because of a disability- are illegal and medically inappropriate because they do not take into consideration the individual’s qualifications and abilities.” Certainly, most careers do not restrict employment of persons with diabetes. However, some professions do actually deny employment to persons with insulin dependent diabetes, although there are always exceptions to the general rule.
Due to the concerns of my young adult patients with type 1 diabetes, I conducted a search involving careers in law enforcement, the military and public service. The ADA has a great deal of information on its website including many links to specific laws.
There are still some careers that are restricted, largely due to insulin therapy.
According to the ADA, pilots with insulin treated diabetes may obtain FAA third class medical certificates, but may not obtain first class certification, which allows the pilot to operate commercial planes.
In regard to the military, according to DiabetesSisters, the official statement does not allow anyone with any type of diabetes to enlist.
CIA, Secret Service, and the Foreign Service
CIA and secret service agent careers are also discouraged for people with insulin treated diabetes. Individuals with insulin treated diabetes interested in the Foreign Service will most likely also be excluded from applying as medical facilities in many parts of the world may be inadequate.
Much more leeway exists when working for the federal government. My understanding is that most civil service positions actively recruit people with disabilities including diabetes and make appropriate accommodations when hired. According to DiabetesSisters, one exception to these policies are law enforcement positions that include air marshals, court protection programs, and FBI special agents. Some individuals with diabetes have fought and won the right to serve in these jobs. Jobs in the federal government that are available include IRS special agents, but for example, court room security officers would need to be evaluated on an individual basis. The Peace Corps website states “The Peace Corps cannot accommodate people with diabetes with complications.” However, the applicant can have a personal discussion about their own medical situation and may be considered.
Law Enforcement Officers
According to the ADA, “Diabetes should not be considered an automatic disqualifying condition, but rather, each law enforcement officer with diabetes must be evaluated on a case-by case basis. The consensus guidelines as last edited on November 6, 2013, state “current published data suggest that persons with diabetes who can safely and effectively function as law enforcement officers can be readily identified through careful individualized assessment. Thus blanket bans of all people with diabetes, in addition to being illegal are not consistent with current medical knowledge.”
In regard to firefighters, diabetes is no longer considered an automatic disqualifying condition. However, any disqualification because of diabetes or insulin use must be individually determined. Apparently, a new standard requirement (as of November 4th, 2013) is that a person’s A1c must be lower than 8 percent, however, this is not a popular decision.
For detailed information in regard to careers in the military, law enforcement, public service and firefighters, the best approach is to go directly to the websites and understand the guidelines. It’s important that everyone with type 1 or insulin dependent diabetes to advocate on their own behalf because exceptions often occur and decisions may be made on a case-by-case basis. Of course, the ban on pilots flying commercial airlines, as well as military combatants on the battlefield, will most likely continue due to safety concerns for everyone involved. The American Diabetes Association also has legal consultants that are available to answer your questions, guide you through the anti-discrimination laws, and provide you with realistic expectations under the law.
Diabetes shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream career. Let us know in the comments below if you have ever experienced difficulty in obtaining a job due to your diabetes.
Fran Cogen, M.D., C.D.E., is the director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National Health System. She wrote about diabetes for HealthCentral.