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Registering for Selective Service – It’s the Law

Through the years I have talked with many families who were unaware of the federal law requiring most males residing in the United States or its territories to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) within 30 days of their 18th birthdays. This includes adult males with and without a disability or medical condition. Registration with Selective Service does not mean you are joining or entering the military. The following information is to provide a quick reminder that registration compliance is important and is required by law.

What is Selective Service?

The Selective Service System is an independent agency within the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government. Selective Service is not part of the Department of Defense. (source)

Who must register?

Most young men at least age 18 and less than age 26 are legally required to register with the Selective Service System.

From the Department of Defense website:

“It’s important to know that even though he is registered, a man will not automatically be inducted into the military. In a crisis requiring a draft, men would be called in a sequence determined by random lottery number and year of birth. Then, they would be examined for mental, physical, and moral fitness by the military before being deferred or exempted from military service or inducted into the Armed Forces.”

Almost all men must register, even if they believe they will be exempt from serving. You can learn more at this FAQ on the Selective Service website.

Why does it matter?

Registration compliance protects possible eligibility for future benefits. Failure to register for Selective Service before the age of 26 carries risk of penalties and loss of opportunities. Although rarely enforced, failure to sign up is a felony and carries with it associated fines up to $250,000 and five years in jail. Men who fail to register may find themselves permanently ineligible for the following: federal student aid loans and grants, some state-funded student loans, many job training and certification programs, many federal and state jobs, some security clearances for contractors, and may face denials or delays with the U.S. citizenship process.

Many states, like NC, have additional legislation linking driver’s permits, driver’s licenses, commercial licenses, and state ID cards with Selective Service requirements. The process of applying for a driver’s permit, driver’s license or identification card in NC constitutes consent for Selective Service. But, if you refuse to have your information shared with Selective Service, then the NC Department of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV), as required by law, will not issue a license or identification card to men between the ages of 18-25 not registered with Selective Services System. (General Statutes § 20-9.2. Selective service system registration requirements.) https://codes.findlaw.com/nc/chapter-20-motor-vehicles/nc-gen-st-sect-20-9-2.html

How does registration work?

The Selective Service website offers a broad range of information to address many of the basic questions surrounding registration and the process. The website also includes a chart which aids in understanding exactly who must register.

When can men register for Selective Service?

  • Early submission registration: available to males at least age 17 years and 3 months. Selective Service will “hold” the registration and keep it on file until the individual is within 30 days of his 18th This will allow a male student, possibly considering attending college, to go ahead and apply for student financial aid and submit the necessary forms.
  • Register at age 18: Men must register within 30 days of their 18th
  • Late registration: To ensure more robust compliance, Selective Service traditionally allows a grace period for men to sign up. If you are past age 18 and not yet age 26, you are allowed to register until the last day of your 25th year.
  • No registration: On or after your 26th birthday, you cannot be registered and you may be ineligible for certain federal or state programs and benefits. Appeals can be costly and time consuming. Learn more

The Question of Women and Selective Service

Congress is currently considering amending legislation to include women for the draft. For now, the Selective Service registration requirement specifies only males must register.


Jan Combs can be reached at jcombs@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5081.

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