Military Issues Warning Against At-home DNA Tests

Military members are being warned against using consumer mail-in DNA tests. In a memo signed by Joseph Kernan, the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, and James Stewart, the assistant secretary of Defense for manpower, service members were cautioned about the risks posed by consumer DNA tests and advised to avoid them. Instead, service members are instructed to receive DNA result information from a “licensed professional.”

Genetic tests have more serious employment implications for members of the military than for the average office worker. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on genetic information, does not apply to members of the military. Military members are required to disclose their medical status and confirmation of a genetic marker for some specific traits could limit their advancement in some specialties.

Over the past decade, millions of Americans have purchased at-home DNA tests through companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry. These kits are advertised as a way for a person to find out more about their family origins and potentially connect with relatives. Some are even marketed as a way to find out their chances of developing certain health conditions. However, the information provided by private companies may or may not be reliable results. 

The Department of Defense memo reads: “Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members. These genetic tests are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.” The memo does not get into what specifically these risks might be.