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The 1967 Draft Act: Where You Stand

Brass Tacks

By Boisfeuillet JONES Jr.

Harvard undergraduates, who during the last two days have filed for II-S draft deferments, can rest assured of one thing: their local boards must automatically grant a deferment until they complete their baccalaureate degree, fail to pursue satisfactorily a full-time course of study, or attain the age of 24, whichever occurs first. But what most undergraduates do not know, and cannot yet learn, is where they will stand with the draft after graduation. For seniors, that time will be next summer, and the draft outlook for them is not good; as the situation now stands (but it could change), most of them will enter the 1-A pool.

The current uncertainty is the result of presidential preferences, Congressional attachments to the present system, and Defense Department needs. Although President Johnson, his special commission under Burke Marshall, and many private interests sought comprehensive reforms, the 1967 Draft Act in its final form provided little more than an extension of the old system and a few more unknowns.

Of the few revisions passed by Congress, the most important ones will not go into effect for at least a year; at that point, graduate deferments will be stiffly limited. The President also has the authority to reverse the current "oldest first" order of induction and to call 19-year olds before older men.

The Act's legislative history shows that both the President and Congress wished to curtail graduate and occupational deferments as much as possible and to ensure that no deferment resulted in total exemption from the draft. Therefore the new Act states that:

* Graduate students in 1967-68 will keep their deferments--M.A. candidates for one year, and Ph.D. candidates for no more than four. A candidate for a professional or doctoral degree who was in school last year has a total of five years, including those he has already completed, to earn his degree. Then he will go into the pool of maximum eligibility even if he is over the age of 25.

* Last June's college graduates entering graduate school for the first time this fall will be deferred for only one year, when they will enter the pool of maximum eligibility along with this year's college seniors. These students will continue to be eligible for deferment for graduate study, or for occupational deferment, if the field is deemed "essential to the national interest" by the local board.

Under the law, the National Security Council--consisting of the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning--will advise the President whether any fields besides medicine and dentistry are essential enough to justify deferments. Most draft officials believe the Council will extend the deferments to scientists and engineers, and one Massachusetts draft board official suggested the possibility that some languages may also be included. No one will be sure, however, until the Council makes its recommendations in early 1968. One state official predicted that local boards will be glad to have the Council's list to follow since it will relieve them of a lot of the burdens of decision-making. As another official put it, "When the draft boards get something definite, they will hang their hats on it."

Besides the fact that these "most-favored areas" are yet unknown, the other main factor of uncertainty centers around the Draft Act's provisions concerning the system and order of induction. Congress permitted the President to reverse the current "oldest first" order of induction and to call 19-year olds before older men (for obvious career and family reasons); but at the same time it prohibited the President's authority to institute a random selection system (a draft lottery) which would ensure that all registrants within this age group stood an equal chance of induction.

This year draft boards are continuing to take the oldest men first in the pool of eligibles from 19 to 25 years old. There has been no shift to reverse the order of call because the average draftee will remain relatively young as long as the graduate deferments remain effective and draft calls are high. But next summer, when last June's college graduates and the current college seniors both become vulnerable, the average age will go up considerable.

To avoid this situation, the White House and Pentagon would prefer to reverse the order of call to 19-year olds first; but to make this process fair, the Pentagon believes there must be a lottery--not an adaptation of the current "oldest first" procedure to a system of monthly draft calls of men between 19 and 20. The Pentagon believes that such a system would be administratively cumbersome and potentially unfair because monthly quotas vary greatly and draft calls might bunch toward a particular spot in the month (thus favoring men with birthdays immediately before the draft calls). Unfortunately for the Defense Department, the powerful House Armed Services Committee does not agree; it prefers an adaptation of the "oldest first" system and has so far successfully opposed the introduction of a lottery.

The Administration will probably try to push a lottery through Congress during the next session, but success is not likely. Therefore it may have to choose between what it considers two evils: the 19-year old pool with an unfair system or the present order of oldest first. This decision will make great difference to students who have received deferments. If the 19-year old pool is used--by lottery or otherwise--then students no longer deferred will have about a 50-50 chance of being drafted in that first year and then will be placed in the pool with persons their own age and remain relatively invulnerable. But if the "oldest first" order is continued and high draft calls remain, then the once-deferred students become the oldest in the pool, (i.e., the most vulnerable) and will most certainly be gobbled up.

On top of that, graduate students can no longer obtain the I-S classification, whereby they could put off induction until the end of the school term. In October of 1968, for example, a first-year Law student may be called by his draft board after beginning the term. He has no recourse but to appeal, and according to one draft board official, it is unlikely that he will win his case since appeal boards follow the national guide lines more closely than the local boards do. One state official said this week, "A board may decide to delay a graduate student's induction until midyear if he's called in January, but if called in October it is a different matter." According to some observers, the fact that there now exists almost no considerations for these students either means a greatly hardened attitude on the part of the Administration towards graduate students, or else suggests that there may be some new Executive Order concerning these students next spring or summer.

As do most problems concerning college seniors, this dilemma brings only shrugs of uncertainty from state and University Selective Service advisers and career counsellors. They know no more than the news media do, and they are extremely sensitive about misleading someone with false predictions.

One thing seems clear: even the remaining deferments will not allow students to avoid the draft interminably or until the exemption age is reached. For example, single non-volunteers and men married after August 26, 1965, are both equally vulnerable and will remain so. And fathers forfeit their deferment after completing their education if they have requested II-S deferments in the past (unless they can prove hardship).

The deferment screws were also tightened upon the national service organizations like the Peace Corps, VISTA, and the Teacher Corps. The National Security Council will probably classify them as essential to the national interest since McNamara and General Hershey both favor the idea and the other Council members are Administration officials not anxious to kill Great Society programs. But even if national service volunteers (mostly college graduates) receive occupational deferments for the duration of their national service, under the new law they can expect to incur maximum liability to the draft when they complete their term--even if they are over the 26-year old mark.

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