Who Is Exempt From Being Drafted Into the Military?

By Jennifer Mueller - Updated June 05, 2017
Soldier saluting the US Flag

The U.S. ended the draft in 1973 and converted to all-volunteer military forces. However, federal law requires young men between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the Selective Service. The Military Selective Service Act governs the independent agency's operations and provides categories of men exempted from service, registration or both.

History of the Draft

In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act into law, creating America's first peacetime draft and establishing the Selective Service as an independent federal agency. By far the largest numbers of men drafted through the Selective Service -- more than 10 million -- served in World War II. The draft ended in 1973 following U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, and mandatory Selective Service registration ended in 1975. Although President Jimmy Carter lifted the suspension of mandatory registration in 1980 following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, he did not reinstate the draft.

Selective Service Registration

As of 2014, all male citizens and legal permanent residents of the United States between the ages of 18 and 26 must register with Selective Service. Not everyone required to register would necessarily be inducted into the armed forces with the reinstatement of the draft. If inductions began, the men would be called by random lottery number and year of birth. Although men as young as 18 must register, only men 20 and over are draft-eligible. Once called, each man would be examined and classified according to his mental, physical and moral fitness. The Selective Service Act exempts men from registration only in a few circumstances, including those already enlisted and on active duty in the armed forces, students in officer procurement programs and men committed to medical or correctional institutions.

Exemptions from Training and Service

Many men still required to register with Selective Service would be exempt from being drafted for military service. Ordained ministers and men with physical disabilities, for example, must register. However, if called for draft examination they would be exempted from service.Conscientious objectors also are exempt from military training and service, but the law does not necessarily exempt them from being drafted. Federal law allows conscientious objectors to be assigned noncombat or civilian service in lieu of military service. Conscientious objector status must be based on religious training and belief, not personal philosophical or moral code.

Deferment of Training and Service

Although not entirely exempt from military service, broader categories of men may have their active service deferred if the president reinstates the draft. For example, the act gives the president authority to defer the service of men with minor physical or mental deficiencies, men with children or other family members who depend on them for the bulk of their support, or men working in industries necessary to national security. Additionally, the act provides deferment for elected officials in state and federal government during their terms of office. Students preparing for the ministry and enrolled in school full-time may defer service as long as they are making satisfactory progress towards completion of the program. Other students, however, may only defer service until the end of the academic semester. Seniors may postpone their induction until the end of the school year.

About the Author

Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

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