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Ignoring mandatory draft Registration bad decision

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press

By Jeremy Lazarus
On May 12, 2016
Jacquel Parker

Jacquel Parker

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Register for Selective Service. Otherwise, you could ruin your life. Jacquel Parker wishes he could tell that to every young man turning 18.

That’s because the Richmond, Virginia, resident knows firsthand about the dismal impact that can come from failing to register with the Selective Service System before age 26. Parker never did – one of the millions across the nation who fail to register for a military draft that will never take place.

So now at 35, “I can’t get any federal help to go to college,” said Parker. That includes Pell grants and federal student loans to help cover the cost of schooling. Parker also cannot qualify for a federal job or work for a company carrying out a federal contract. He is barred from job training services from the area Workforce Resource Center and other beneficial services. People like Parker could also go to prison. The Selective Service notes that failure to register is a felony that carries up to a five-year prison term and a $250,000 fine, though no one has been prosecuted in decades.

That’s the law, according to the Selective Service System, even though there has been no conscription for the military since 1973. The draft was eliminated and the military has been a completely volunteer operation since then. 

According to the most recent Selective Service report, an estimated 95,000 Virginia men who currently are between 18 and a day shy of their 26th birthday have not registered. That’s 21 percent of the 440,000 men in that age range who are required to sign up.

Nationally, about 17 million men are in the age range to register, the Selective Service reports. But at least 2 million, or 12 percent, likely will not, according to officials.

Registration can be done online at www.SSS.gov, or forms may be filled out at post offices across the country or at the young men’s schools.

The law requires that young men register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Yet, among the 2.1 million young men who turn 18 each year, 23 percent do not register, records show. Some states like Delaware have ensured nearly 100 percent compliance by making registration for the draft a requirement to obtain or renew a driver’s license. 

But Virginia has ignored that kind of easy fix. The Virginia Department of Education has never made draft registration a requirement for high school graduation for students who are 18. About 13 percent of high schools nationally never mention the draft requirement, the Selective Service notes. 

So far, Congress has refused to lighten the penalties or consider shutting down the standby draft and the requirement that men register. While women never had to register, legislation has been introduced in Congress to extend the requirement to young women now that the military has opened all of its posts, including combat, to females. But the legislation has yet to pass.

Parker learned he had a problem when, at age 27, he sought to enroll at Virginia Commonwealth University to earn a degree in business administration.

“All the paperwork was done, and then I got a call telling me I could not get a student loan because I hadn’t registered for the draft. I was shocked, but there was nothing to be done. I’ve tried and tried.” 

Parker remembers being advised by his high school guidance counselor to register before he graduated in 1998. 

“She didn’t explain it very well. I thought she was telling me I would have to go into the military,” said Parker, a graduate of Lindenhurst High School in New York City. He said he had relatives who had served, including his dad, who served in the Air Force, but “that was not for me.” 

Before Parker finished high school, he had obtained his barber’s license and was working in his father’s shop.

“I was making money, life was good and I didn’t want to have anything to do with military. I just didn’t understand what it meant to register.” 

Today, he would change that decision if he could.

“I wish there was some way to appeal, to undo the mistake, but I’m too old,” he said. “I wish I could go back. But unless something changes, I will have to live with my situation the rest of my life.”

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