Donald Trump’s Heel Spurs: A Valid Excuse for Deferment?

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Gage Skidmore

The New York Times recently wrote about the reasons for Donald Trump’s five military deferments during the Vietnam War. Four of them were excused by college, and the fifth was because of the medical condition heel spurs.

The Times discusses the potentially suspicious circumstances surrounding Trump’s heel spurs, including that he had downplayed their significance describing them as “minor” and temporary”, and his failure to provide a copy of the letter issued by his doctor.

While we can have a heated debate about Trump’s deferments and their implications on his moral character, let’s instead talk about heel spurs themselves and whether or not they should be considered a valid excuse for deferment.

First of all, what are heel spurs?

Heel spurs, medically known as calcaneal spurs or osteophytes, are abnormal calcium build-ups on the heel bone. They often present themselves as hook-shaped protrusions on the bottom of the calcaneus.

According to podiatrists there are a variety of common risk factors that may contribute to the development of heel spurs including obesity, uneven gait, improper footwear, and the natural aging process.

Heel spurs are also closely associated with plantar fasciitis, which involves the overstretching, tearing, or inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament. The spurs often develop as the body’s response to plantar fasciitis, in the attempt to provide additional support to the damaged plantar fascia ligament.

How much pain do heel spurs cause?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, heel spurs do not cause any pain at all in as many as 50% of cases. In fact, it’s not uncommon to be completely unaware that you even have heel spurs.

When pain does occur, it is not the bone spurs themselves that hurt, but the fatty tissues on the bottom of the foot or the plantar fascia area. Pain can be mild to severe, and is often described as:

  • Sharp
  • Stabbing
  • Knife-like
  • Aching

Are heel spurs curable?

There is no definitive cure for heel spurs, however there are a variety of treatment options with varying success rates.

Some heel inserts are guaranteed to provide pain relief, but the treatment works by re-cushioning the fat pad of the heel and re-aligning and healing the plantar fascia ligament. Symptoms may be reduced or completely eliminated without actually getting rid of the bone spur itself.

Home remedies such as icing, stretching of the feet, ankles, and calves, and massage can also be helpful in reducing pain, but often take weeks or months to provide significant pain relief.

Heel spurs can also be treated surgically. Often the surgery focuses more on treating the condition of plantar fasciitis, detaching the plantar fascia ligament from the heel bone. Some doctors also choose to remove the bone spur itself in the process.

Should heel spurs be a reason for military deferment?

In most cases, heel spurs don’t cause any significant pain or disability - in fact, they often go completely unnoticed. Because of this, they are a rare excuse for military deferment or disqualification.

However, for those who are affected by heel spurs and the closely related plantar fasciitis, the pain can be devastating and interfere with normal daily functions such as walking and standing.

Because of this, the U.S. Army lists heel spurs as a potential cause for “rejection for appointment, enlistment, and induction into military service.”

This does not mean that anyone with heel spurs will automatically be disqualified from service, but that the candidate may not be considered medically fit for duty if the heel spur (or plantar fasciitis) “interferes with the satisfactory performance of military duties, or prevents the wearing of military footwear.”

So are Trump’s heel spurs a valid excuse for military deferment?

It is possible that Trump’s heel spurs caused significant pain and limited mobility which could have impacted his ability to perform military duties, however it’s also possible that his symptoms were exaggerated as a - pun intended - “trump card” to avoid the military.

Ultimately without the doctor’s note all we can do is investigate the circumstances of the deferment and speculate, because this is a determination to be made in the moment by the individual suffering heel pain and their physician, not by the public 48 years after the fact.

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