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The Selective Service System Law

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"Maybe the answer to Selective Service is to start everyone off in the army and draft them for civilian life as needed." ~ Bill Vaughn, syndicated columnist (1915-1977)

Many Tennesseans don't realize that young men 18 through 25 are required to register for the military draft system - and that it is a felony to fail to register.

Interestingly, this law applies to all citizens, plus legal non-citizens, refugees, and undocumented immigrants.

  1. Why do we still have a draft system, when our military is now all-volunteer?

It is viewed as a sort of national insurance policy. The Selective Service System provides our nation with a structure and a set of guidelines to provide a prompt, efficient, and fair draft, if our country should ever need it for defense.

Despite the success of the All-Volunteer Force, our nation's leaders agree that registration with the Selective Service must continue as a key component of our national security strategy.

  1. Who is required to register?

Males residing in the U.S. must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. All males are required to register until age 26, except for men on student visas or diplomatic or trade missions.

  1. What happens if someone fails to register as required?

First, failure to register is a federal felony crime punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

Second, failure to register can mean loss of eligibility for student financial aid, federal jobs, federal programs, and eligibility for U.S. citizenship for immigrants.

  1. How can a young man register?

There are several ways:

  • In high school (many schools participate in the Selective Service Registrar Program).
  • When applying for federal financial aid.
  • On-line at sss.gov.
  • At any U.S. post office by filling out a Selective Service registration card.
  • By receiving, completing, and returning a mailed registration card.
  • By phone, if he receives an official registration card from the Selective Service with a registration PIN number.

Jim Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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