Navy Retracts ROTC Scholarship Offer from Young Man on the Autism Spectrum

A young man with autism is reeling after being offered a full ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) scholarship and then having the Navy take it all back from him. He says he believes autism is the reason the Navy is no longer interested in giving him
a scholarship.

Tory Ridgeway has always wanted to serve his community and his nation. He shadowed his father at Joint Base Andrews as a youngster, and he became an Eagle Scout in 2017. He even joined Junior ROTC in high school to prepare himself for the real thing. It’s what he’s dreamt of all his life.

So when Tory received a letter in the mail a few months ago stating that he’d received a full Navy ROTC scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he was ecstatic. His family caught the moment on video, showing Tory with his mouth agape and speechless as the letter fell from his hands. He then turned to his father and hugged him tightly.

Photo: NBC 4 Washington

“This has been my dream for like 10-plus years, and now it’s actually happening,” Tory said in an interview shortly after the letter came.

However, Tory was only able to enjoy his victory for a couple of months before the Navy sent another offer explaining why they had to withdraw the offer. The letter cited “academic skills and developmental disorders,” but Tory and his family believe this is just a flowery way of saying that he was turned down for having autism.

“Upon seeing that I had autism, they declined me, saying that autism was a disqualification,” says Tory. “It’s still got my head spinning. It’s still got me stressed out.”

Photo: NBC 4 Washington

Tory says he has never attempted to hide that he has autism and has always been open about it. The disorder has been his inspiration for many of the great projects he’s worked on, including the “buddy bench” he created as an Eagle Scout for kids who are having trouble finding friends to play with. Tory even spoke about autism in his application essay and his interview for the scholarship.

But despite all this, the Navy has been unbending and refused to reconsider Tory as a candidate for the scholarship.

“The Navy offers NROTC scholarships contingent on a candidate fulfilling several requirements, including passing a medical screening, which is completed after a candidate is offered a scholarship,” says Phil Chitty, a spokesman for Naval Service Training Command.

Photo: NBC 4 Washington

However, due to healthcare privacy laws, Chitty was unable to comment on whether autism was the cause of Tory’s disqualification.

The ROTC’s website says that “academic skills defects treated past age 14 […] are disqualifying, but potentially waive-able.”

Tory’s parents, Troy and Vanessa, say the situation has been a “heartbreaking” blow to their family. “To see the devastation and to experience him finding out was […] a worse chapter in my life,” says Vanessa.

Photo: NBC 4 Washington

“My dream was to be the first officer in this family,” says Tory. “It’s really scary that now it’s being taken away.”

Tory is still planning to attend Embry-Riddle and hopes he’ll be allowed to continue on to serve his country. But he’ll have to manage it all without the financial help of his full-ride scholarship.

“This country is my home,” Tory explains. “It’s given me so much. My family and my friends have given me so much, and I would give anything to ensure that they have wonderful lives.”

Photo: NBC 4 Washington

Tory does have orders to report to boot camp, which he will do as he waits to learn more about his standing in the ROTC program. He is currently trying to appeal the decision.

We wish you all the best, Tory, and we hope the Navy can see past their prejudices to the intelligent and hardworking young man you obviously are. You would be an asset to this country’s military and absolutely deserve the scholarship that was offered to you.

Check out the video below to learn more.

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