Selective Service Registration for Men with Disabilities

Recently, Attorneys from the Special Education and Disability Rights practice group and the Estate Planning and Estate and Trust Administration practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP, attended the annual conference for the Federation for Children with Special Needs.  During the conference, one parent approached us and asked whether her son, who is eighteen years old and has significant disabilities, really needed to register for the Selective Service.  It was an intriguing question, one that we had not heard before, and so we looked into it.

The Selective Service System was first implemented in the spring of 1917 following the US declaration of war against Germany in World War I.  The modern incarnation of the Selective Service System was implemented on July 2, 1980 by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  President Carter’s proclamation required all 18- to 26-year-old male citizens born on or after January 1960 to register with the Selective Service System.  Since that time, the Selective Service System has remained in place, and with only very few exceptions all males between the ages of 18 and 25 must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

It is important to understand that the Selective Service System does not have the authority to classify registrants as fit or unfit for military duty.  Therefore, every male, even those who may ultimately be deemed unable to serve, must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday.  According to the Selective Service System’s website, “men who have a disability and who live at home must register with Selective Service if they can reasonably leave their homes and move about independently.”  Unless your son is confined to an institution or is completely “bed-bound” he is required to register.

When your son is reaching the age where he is required to register it is important to understand that registration does not mean he will be automatically inducted into the military.  Should a crisis arise that requires the implementation of a draft, men would be called into service through a random lottery system.  They would then undergo an examination to determine fitness for duty in the military where they will then be either exempted, deferred, or inducted into service.  At the time of the draft lottery, the registrant, or his parents/guardians, would have the opportunity to provide any medical documentation needed for exemption and likely would not even need to appear for any testing.

Presently, the US Military is an all-volunteer force and 1973 was the last time someone was drafted into military service.  Additionally, although failure to register with the Selective Service System is a violation of the law, the last prosecution for failure to register was in 1986.  So, why is it important to register?  In order to incentivize registration, certain laws have been passed that condition various state and federal opportunities on providing proof of registration.  First, most federal employment positions, and some state positions, require proof of registration.  Programs funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provide programs for training  individuals seeking vocational employment opportunities, require proof of registration.  Registration is also a condition for citizenship.  If your son arrived in the U.S. before his 26th birthday, registration is required in order to obtain citizenship.

Finally, failure to register with selective service can have a significant impact on eligibility for student financial aid.  Any male who has not registered with Selective Service is ineligible for federal student loans or grants.  This restriction applies to: Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Direct Stafford Loans, Direct Plus Loans, National Direct Student Loans, and College Work Study.  The restriction on student financial aid can be the most prohibitive, and typically the requirement is not discovered until the process for applying for such funding has already begun and then sidelined once the application requests proof of Selective Service Registration.  In what is already a stressful time, having to navigate the Selective Service Registration system can be an added concern for students and parents alike.  To avoid a possible denial or delay of these important benefits, and unnecessary stress, it is best to have your son complete the Selective Service registration on his 18th birthday.  Once again, registration with Selective Service is not an induction into military service and further screening would occur in the event of a national crisis to determine eligibility for military service.

This summary is a description of the requirements as they presently stand, but changes may be on the horizon.  In 2013 the Department of Defense decided to abolish all restrictions on women serving in combat positions.  This change sparked debate regarding whether women should also be required to register with the Selective Service System.  Congress has funded a commission to explore options to include women in the requirement, but no decisions have been made and there is no timeline for when we can expect any changes.  Until any changes are made, it is important for parents whose sons are nearing their 18th birthday to be aware of the registration process, how it applies to all men regardless of their disabilities, and the risks associated with failing to register.  If you have any questions about this process, or any legal matter concerning your children with special needs, please contact the attorneys at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP.

Carl Misitano is an associate at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

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