The Serious, Long-Term Consequences of Failing to Register for the Draft

Those who refuse might face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Iraq War study
An internal Army study on the Iraq War has been completed since 2016.
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Most American men know they have to register for the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday — but few know the severity of failing to do so by the time they turn 26.

Men who fail to register for the draft by then can no longer do so after the fact — forever closing the door to government benefits like student aid, a government job or even U.S. citizenship, USA Today reported. And, at least on paper, it’s a crime to “knowingly fail or neglect or refuse” to register for the draft and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

There’s a little-known eight-year grace period between 18 and 26 where an American man can receive these benefits and sign up for the Selective Service at any time without penalty.

An appeal can be made after 26, but as USA Today noted, it can be a costly and time-consuming process. About 1 million American men have been denied some government benefits because they weren’t registered for the draft, according to Selective Service statistics.

But with the current format of the draft — the unconstitutionality of it being male-only — Congress will eventually have to decide whether to eliminate Selective Service registration altogether or expand it to women, too.

A report is due on this very question from the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service next year.

“We’re taking a look at all of these questions,” Vice Chairwoman Debra Wada, a former assistant secretary of the Army, said. “And that means looking at whether the current system is both fair and equitable — but also transparent.”

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