U.S. Selective Service Updates Contingency Plan for Draft of Health Care Workers
The Selective Service, the federal agency that plans for and carries out the U.S. draft, this summer issued a confidential report updating its contingency plans for drafting doctors, nurses and other health care workers in case of a national emergency that "overwhelmed the military's medical corps," the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, in 1987, Congress enacted a law requiring the Selective Service to develop a plan for "registration and classification" of health care workers essential to the armed forces. The Selective Service in 2003 began focusing its preparations for a national crisis on "narrow sectors of specialists, including medical personnel," the Times reports.
A recent newsletter circulated by the Selective Service System said that the military has "critical shortages of individuals with special skills" that might be needed in an emergency. Under the plan, some 3.4 million male and female health care workers ages 18 to 44 would be expected to register with the Selective Service. From that list, the agency would select 36,000 professionals specializing in 62 different areas of health care to report to the Department of Defense "if and when a special skills draft were activated," according to Richard Flahavan, a spokesperson for the Selective Service System.
Doctors and nurses would be eligible for deferments if they could demonstrate that their departure would deprive civilians of "essential health care services," according to the Times.
The report, prepared this summer by contract consultant Widmeyer Communications, described how a draft of civilian health care providers would work, how to ensure compliance with draft orders, how to influence public opinion and how to communicate with health care workers. The report said that the Selective Service should establish in advance contacts with medical societies, hospitals, medical and nursing schools, managed care organizations, rural care providers and editors of medical journals and trade publications.
However, the report also said that such contact efforts should be limited and discreet because "overtures from Selective Service to the medical community will be seen as precursors to a draft," which could alarm the public. The report also advised the Selective Service to contact local government groups, such as the National Association of Counties, because local governments could be affected by the call-up of emergency medical workers if a health care draft is instituted.
The report also summarized the findings from focus groups held this summer by the Selective Service and Widmeyer on a possible health care personnel draft. It said that public opinion shows "substantial resistance to the notion of a call-up of civilian professionals that would send draftees to foreign soil."
In addition, the public sees such a draft as unworkable because "training would be inadequate to transform groups of people who had never worked together into cohesive units," according to the report. The report also said the focus groups showed people are apprehensive about the length of service that could be required with a medical personnel draft and believe the government is capable of finding "whomever it needs" in a crisis by using a "master database."
Flahavan said, "We have been routinely updating the entire plan for a health care draft. The plan is on the shelf and will remain there unless Congress and the president decide that it's needed and direct us to carry it out."
Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita said Monday, "It is the policy of [the Bush] administration to oppose a military draft for any purpose whatsoever. ... There will be no draft." He added that instead, the military could offer bonuses and other incentives to attract and retain medical specialists.
Both Bush and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) have said they oppose a military draft, according to the Times (Pear, New York Times, 10/19).