The government has finished a plan to draft medical personnel that, for the first time, could lead to the forced induction of women.
Responding to congressional concerns that a lack of doctors, nurses and other health professionals could be a "war-stopper," the Selective Service System has prepared plans to order up to 73,000 medical workers in the event of war or other national emergency."If we had to conduct a medical draft now, we could," Lewis Brodsky, assistant director of the Selective Service, said Friday.
First, though, the Congress and president would have to declare a state of emergency. Should that happen, health-care workers of both sexes, ages 20 to 44, would be required to register at local post offices.
Waivers would be granted if local authorities concluded a medical worker's skills were vitally needed on the home front. Deferments also could be obtained for personnel who are conscientious objectors or whose induction would cause hardship to family members.
The proposed medical draft goes far beyond the "doctors' draft," which inducted some 23,000 physicians into the military between 1950 and 1973, Brodsky said.
The medical draft also could be implemented without a general draft, he said.
"If gas had been used in Operation Desert Storm, there might have been a greater need for medical personnel than for conventional (war-fighting) units," Brodsky said. "The Defense Department tells us today's battlefield scenarios are much more lethal, with the potential for many more casualties."
Women would be drafted "because all military health-care jobs are noncombatant," the plan says. The government estimates about 3.4 million health-care workers would have to register for the draft.
The American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association lobbied against the plan, said Col. Daniel O'Neal, a registered nurse and Army reservist working for the ANA.
"None of the health organizations saw the need for this," O'Neal said. "We think there'd be enough volunteers, so we didn't think it was necessary."
Brodsky said that only by drafting females could the Selective Service get as many health-care workers as the Pentagon needs, as quickly as it needs them.
Although no peacetime registration will be required, the agency believes it could begin delivering medical personnel to military units six weeks after a declared emergency.
Brodsky said the plan may soon become part of an "emergency action package" that could be enacted quickly, along with other wartime measures, by Congress.