Veterans Affairs Secretary Supports Military Draft

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Supports Military Draft
by Sara Kugler

NEW YORK — President Bush’s secretary for Veterans Affairs said Thursday that “society would benefit” if this country were to bring back the military draft, and said it shouldn’t have loopholes for anyone who is called to serve.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson spoke a day after Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq. The Bush administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that its position had not changed.

Nicholson, who served in Vietnam, was in New York City to announce a partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg on helping homeless veterans find housing. He later issued a statement saying the comments had been “misconstrued” and that he does not support reinstating the draft.

During the press conference, a reporter suggested that the all-volunteer army attracts a disproportionate number of minorities and poor who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty, and asked Nicholson if he believed the draft should be reinstated so that the military would be more “equal.”

“I think that our society would benefit from that, yes sir,” Nicholson said…

     

The secretary recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels, noting that the draft is positive “because it does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving” in uniform.

He cautioned, though, that any effort to bring back a military draft would have many serious issues to consider, such as whether to draft women.

“I think if we bring back the draft, there should be no loopholes for anybody who happens to be drafted,” he said. “If it’s a random system, it ought to be an honestly random system.”

The White House said no such proposal is being considered.

“The administration is not considering reinstating the draft,” Tony Fratto, a deputy White House press secretary, said Thursday afternoon.

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a separate statement from Nicholson.

“Today, some comments I made about my experiences in Vietnam during that war may have been misconstrued,” he said. “Let me be clear, I strongly support the all-volunteer military and do not support returning to a draft.”

Nicholson, a graduate of the military academy at West Point, N.Y., served eight years on active duty as a paratrooper and Ranger-qualified Army officer, then 22 years in the Army reserve. He has held the VA post since February 2005.

Bush said he has not made up his mind about whether to send more troops to Iraq. No possible timetables or totals have been outlined publicly, but by some accounts roughly 20,000 troops could be added to the 140,000 already there.

Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat who has said minorities and the poor share an unfair burden of the war, plans to introduce a bill next year to reinstate the draft.

The Harlem congressman and Korean War veteran insists he is only offering the bill in order to have hearings and draw attention to the issue. He proposed a similar measure in 2003, and it was defeated 402-2 the following year, when even Rangel voted against it.


http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny–vasecretary-draft1221dec21,0,5912174.story?coll=ny-region-apnewyork

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