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Draft Counseling and Decisions about Selective Service

Resources and advice for draft counselors and counselees

This is not a draft counseling Web site.

Draft “counseling” is usually defined as “non-directive” counseling. This Web site doesn’t tell people what they “should” do, but we dohave a clearly stated opinion: We encourage and recommend draft resistance as a strategy and tactic and as the safest option for most people who don’t want to be drafted (at least if you stay closeted or semi-closeted and don’t tell the government or speak publicly about your failure to register or to tell the Selective Service System when you change your address). We also encourage both draft counselors and counselees to get involved in other forms of anti-draft organizing and activism. We don’t hide our opinions or pretend to be neutral: We believe that the best way to avoid being drafted, to prevent anyone from being drafted, and to constrain planning for larger, longer, less popular wars is to resist draft registration and to organize and speak out against any form of draft.

However, this site has many resources (see these leaflets and the sitemap of all pages on this site) for draft counselors and people seeking draft counseling.

In particular, you might find this site helpful in understanding what options you (or those you are counseling) have, including options that you may not have been aware of or known much about, the range of reasons some people oppose the draft and draft registration, and why people make some of these choices. If you are looking for, or want to provide others with, information about all their options, it’s essential to include statements and testimony about why some people choose to refuse to register or resist in other ways and not just statements about why some people choose to register and plan to seek classification as conscientious objectors assignment to alternative service work.

This site also includes information about the history of the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance since 1980; the status of the Selective Service System and draft registration; compliance, noncompliance, and enforcement of Selective Service registration and address change reporting requirements; using the Privacy Act to submit Selective Service claims; and the relationship of women to the draft and draft registration, including feminist opposition to the draft and draft registration. (Additional information on these topics is also available in libraries in the issues of Resistance News published from 1980-1987, only a fraction of which we have been able to republish on this Web site.)

We hope that these resources will be useful not only to people facing draft registration but also to draft counselors. Many of these options, issues, and perspectives have been overlooked or given only cursory or misleading treatment in some draft counselor trainings. We hope that draft counselors will check out the resources on this site, and refer counselees to this site as a resource.

How can I find a draft counselor?

In practice, you may have difficulty finding anyone who holds themselves out as a draft counselor. In addition, some of those you find, or to whom you are referred, may have limited experience or expertise with respect to Selective Service registration.

At times in the past, especially when the draft was last active during the U.S. war in Indochina, there were extensive networks of draft counselors and draft counseling centers on campuses and in communities throughout the U.S.

Today, few people faced with the requirement to register with the Selective Service System seek counseling to help them with their decisions or are even aware that draft counselors exist or might be available to help them decide what to do.

If there is a sudden surge of interest in Selective Service, draft counselors and referral services are likely to be overwhelmed.

As of now, most of those (few) people who have been trained as draft counselors come from perspectives oriented toward conscientious objectors (COs).

Some trainings for draft counselors are explicitly intended primarily for those who believe (1) that they meet the government’s definition of a CO and that they are likely to be successful in applying for classification as a CO if they are drafted (and are willing to take the risk of having their CO claim denied), (2) that they are willing to cooperate with the SSS classification process, and (3) that they will be willing to do whatever alternative service work they are assigned to (and are willing to take the risk of being assigned to unacceptable alternative service work), and (4) who have already either registered or decided to register in the hope of pursuing a CO claim if they are drafted.

People trained in this way may be primarily CO-claim coaches rather than non-directive counselors. Regardless of how they describe themselves, and in spite of their best intentions to neutrality, draft counselors who have been trained in this way may have little appreciation for the risks of this CO registration strategy, the range of other options, or the reasons some people choose them. This site may help better inform you before you consult such a counselor or decide to pursue the strategy in which they specialize. If you do decide to register, and want to submit documentation in advance of a claim for classification as a CO or any other deferment or exemption, see our guide to using the Privacy Act to submit Selective Service claims.

At present, the main referral networks for draft counseling are primarily networks of support for resisters and COs within the military, who have different (and more limited) options and face different (and in general much greater) risks of personal consequences for illegal resistance than civilians facing Selective Service registration. Pursuing a CO claim is more likely to be the best of a bad lot of choices for someone who is already in the military than for someone who has not yet registered with the SSS, or who has registered but has not otherwise acknowledged or engaged with the SSS. So those whose experience is primarily as military counselors are more likely to think of pursuing a CO claim as the default choice, even when they are counseling people about the SSS and the possibility of a draft.

If you are thinking about how you can help oppose the draft and war, and not just about how you can avoid being drafted, you may want to contact some of the organizations working against the draft.

With these caveats, organizations and networks that may be able to refer you to a draft counselor include:

What is a draft counselor? What do draft counselors do?

Draft counselors help people make decisions about how to relate to the Selective Service System (SSS).

To do so, counselors need to have a map of the maze that individuals must navigate, the points in that process at which they will have to make choices (see below), and the options available to them at each stage.

Points in the process when individuals are most likely to contact a draft counselor include:

  1. They learn, perhaps for the first time, that they will be (or were) supposed to register with the SSS. They may not yet be 18, they may be between 18 and 26, or they may be older than 26. They may or may not know whether they have already been registered, and they may think they have not yet been registered when in fact they have been registered without noticing.
  2. They are approaching their 18th birthday. They don’t want to be drafted.
  3. They haven’t registered, or have decided not to register, and they are thinking about coming out publicly as a nonregistrant and/or informing the government of their decision not to register.
  4. They receive a registration acknowledgment from the SSS, most likely as a result of applying for a driver’s license. They may not have known that they were, or would be, registered.
  5. They are about to apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit for the first time, and are concerned that this might result in their being registered with the SSS. This might or might not be the case, and they may have other options, depending on the state.
  6. They hear that they will have to register in order to attend a state college or obtain financial aid. This may be incorrect or obsolete, or may be partially true, depending on the state.
  7. They are told they will have to register in order to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen, get a Federal job, work in a project that receives Federal grants, or do something else they want to do.
  8. They are told that because they are 26 or older and did not register before they turned 26, they are ineligible for naturalization or some other program, job, or benefit they want.
  9. They are approaching their 26th birthday and aren’t sure whether they should register before their 26th birthday.
  10. They have received a letter or e-mail message threatening that if they don’t register their name will be “referred to the Department of Justice for investigation or possible prosecution”.
  11. They, their parents, their current or former housemates, or someone else they know has received a certified letter from the SSS or the DOJ or has been asked about them by the FBI.
  12. Their parents have asked about their registration status. Their parents may or may not be supportive, and they may or may not know what their parents would do if they were visited by the FBI or received an order for their son or daughter to report for examination or induction.
  13. They have heard that women will be required to register with the SSS.
  14. They are a parent, and any of the things above has happened to their son or daughter.

Counselors should be prepared to be contacted by people in any of these situations.

In each of these circumstances, the first question to a counselor is likely to be, “What should I do?”

Counselors should resist any impulse to give any answer to this question. Your role is not to tell those you counsel what to do, but to help them understand their situation and their options, and come to their own decisions. Some of the most helpful information you can provide may be information about options and possible consequences — good and bad — that they might not otherwise have been aware of.

Some draft counselors are peer counselors working with people their own age. But if you are an older person counseling younger people about the draft and draft registration, it’s important to be conscious of the age dynamics of that relationship. Ageism is a
factor underlying and structuring the draft (under which only younger people are drafted), and has been a chronic problem within anti-draft movements. Ageism by older people towards younger people is a problem of older people, and older people who want to be part of the solution as allies to young people, rather than part of the problem, need to be alert to their own ageism and that of other older people — and willing to accept criticism and to call out other older people on their ageism.

As a draft counselor, we encourage you to try to be an ally to young people in their struggle against an ageist draft and for youth liberation. Their lives are on the line, and by their resistance to the draft they are helping protect us all against larger, longer wars. Amplify their voices, help them organize themselves and support each other, empower and enable them to act on their choices, and follow their leadership — or get out of their way!


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This page most recently modified 17 January 2022. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.