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Selective Service, the Draft and Your 18-year-old

Frequently asked questions

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Selective Service, the Draft and Your 18-year-old

A publication of the California Bar Association Foundation

Photo by Jackie Burrell
There has not been a military draft in the United States since the 1970s, but nevertheless, young men are required to register with the federal Selective Service when they turn 18, or within 30 days of that birthday. If military conscription is ever resumed again, these men, ages 18-25, will form the draft pool. As a parent, you probably have plenty of questions, so here are answers to to most common queries.

  1. How does one register? Young men may register online at the Selective Service web site or by mail, using a Selective Service postcard available at any post office. Your son will need to have his Social Security number handy.

  2. How precise is that 30-day rule? Young men may register up to 30 days after their 18th birthdays, but they can also do it online as early as three months after their 17th birthday. The Selective Service holds them, then processes the paperwork a month before the big birthday and sends out a confirmation card.

  3. What if my son is here on a student visa? If he is not an immigrant, then nope. He need not register. (But all young male immigrants must register, whether they are documented or not.)

  4. What about my daughter? No, young women do not need to register at this time. And yes, that sounds odd, since women serve in the military, but that's the way the law is written. The law underwent a review by the Supreme Court in 1981 and was reviewed again by the Department of Defense in 1994. Doubtless the issue will be reviewed again at some point, but as of 2013, women need not register.

  5. What happens if my 18-year-old son does not register? It's a felony to not register. The punishment includes fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

  6. Are there other penalties? The Selective Service and drivers license application systems are linked in 40 states. You cannot get a driver's license if you have not registered. In all 50 states, students who fail to register are not eligible for student loans or college grants, government jobs or federally funded job training. And immigrants who do not register may be denied citizenship.

  7. Is anyone exempt? All men, ages 18-25, must register, including conscientious objectors and the disabled. If the draft is reinstated, they can register their objections or handicaps then. Immigrants, including illegal aliens, refugees and men in this country on green cards, are required to register as well. There are a very few exceptions, including young men already on full-time, active military duty, and men in hospitals, mental institutions or in jail, but they must register within 30 days of release.

  8. What if we move? You don't need to worry about moves from home to dorm to frat, et al. But you should register changes of permanent address at the Selective Service web site.

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