Medical Draft: or, Kool-Aid and You.

In an interesting entry, Graham wishes to alert us to the risk of a possible Medical Skills Draft, via the International Herald Tribune, and the weblogs Blatant Truth and DailyKos (there’re some sites I never thought I’d link). Spend a few minutes reading any of these three and you’ll be left, like me, with the feeling that these are way left-of-center sources of information.

I do not for a minute doubt that our government has plans on the shelf for a medical draft. Planning is one of the things we expect, nee, demand our government do (think of the outrage if there isn’t a plan for relief after every single weather-related disaster). Also, having been in the service, I know that we have plans to invade a couple of countries, and have no doubt that we have a plan, in one form or another, to invade every other country and the moon, and that we have a plan to draft left handed beekeepers should a national need arise.

Planning is a long way from execution. I have a plan to retire, but I’m a long way from pulling it off.

(I recall being told that, at the end of the Berry Plan (a Medical Draft during the Vietnam War), the feds made a deal with the AMA that, if the AMA would keep track of who all the docs are and where they are, the feds wouldn’t require docs to register with the Selective Service. That’s why I never wonder why the AMA always knows where to send my ‘please join’ notices, no matter how many times I move. It could also just be an old doc’s tale. Dunno.)

Medical drafts have happened in our nations’ history, young and midcareered docs and nurses faced a choice, and the overwhelming majority chose honorable service to their country. They were not required to kill for their country, they were needed for their medical skills and training, to provide aid and comfort to the sick and injured, both friend and foe. They served with honor, some reluctantly and some wholeheartedly, but they served when called.

I had the great good fortune to have served with one of these draftees, in the twilight of his career. He’d gotten out after Vietnam and had a terrific vascular surgery practice, then missed the service near retirement and returned, I think just to lead me. He was my Division Surgeon, and his citation for the Navy Cross appears in the extended entry. One hell of a role model.

Not to belabor a point, but every single person who has spoken with authority from the current administration has said, uncategorically, that there will be no draft. No little hidden, ‘but ifs’, etc. They can Just Say No. But, you know, they’re politicians. Like the Democratic politicians who sponsored the only bill calling for a draft. A bill defeated so soundly its own Democratic author didn’t vote for it.

So, for completeness’ sake, let’s think of this from a supply and demand standpoint. This nation has several fully-staffed Military Medical Centers, filled with excellent docs in all stages of training, and nurses (ditto), and there’s no shortage of people vyying for those positions. Several of those facilities have seen their served active duty populations deploy overseas, and though they continue to care for the returned wounded, dependents and retirees in their areas, their committed forces are elsewhere. Were they needed (i.e., a shortage of medical specialists in theatre), they’d be deployed there. I’ve been paying attention, and no such shortage has happened. This current war on terror has created a terrible number of killed and wounded, yet it’s nowhere near the number seen during several single months of fighting in Vietnam. I am NOT minimizing the impact of injury on any single servicemember or their loved ones. I am saddened by every one, and appreciate their sacrifice, but this country is not being overwhelmed by casualties, and has no shortage of medical practioners to tend to the battle fallen.

To finish: No draft. Not going to happen, not for riflemen and certainly not for medical professionals. I find it more than a little depressing that ‘draft fear’ is apparently rampant in the Left, and that scare tactics about drafting (add affected group here) is a powerful (presumable) motivator to vote against GWBush. It must poll terribly well, or it wouldn’t be pushed like this, and to every potential interest group, in this case medical professionals. There’s plenty of reasons to vote against the incumbent president without making up scary things that go bump in the night, and it’s doubly depressing that the idea of service to ones’ country is seen as a catastrophic affliction to be avoided at all costs. The original JFK’s “ask not…” is now a source of bemusement to the Left, not a call to serve ones’ country.

Don’t get all your ideas or information from one side, and stay the hell away from the kool-aid. It’ll give you a funny moustache, and can kill you if you get it from the wrong people.

Update: Comments by MedPundit, Bloodletting, Cut to Cure, and code:theWebSocket.

My Division Surgeon. It’s a story I got him to tell, and it’s more interesting than the official citation. I’ll write about it someday.

Taft, David A.
Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy
1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division
Date of Action: August 27, 1967

The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Commander David A. Taft, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism on 27 August 1967 while serving as a surgeon with the First Medical Battalion (Reinforced), First Marine Division (Reinforced), FMF near Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam, in direct support of combat operations against communist insurgent (Viet Cong) forces. When a seriously wounded casualty with an “armed” 2.75in rocket imbedded in his left leg was brought by helicopter to the First Medical Battalion, Lieutenant Commander Taft carefully diagnosed the case, concluding that surgical amputation was imperative and time was of the essence. Anticipating that the rocket might detonate at any moment, he immediately supervised the patient’s emergency treatment and transfer to the operating room, setting an outstanding example of calmness and courage. He assisted with the administration of spinal anesthetic which necessitated manipulating and positioning the victim several times. Lieutenant Commander Taft cleared the operating room of all personnel with the exception of the patient, himself, and a Navy Hospital Corpsman, and then, with complete disregard for his own safety, coolly and competently performed the necessary surgery. By his expeditious treatment of the patient, his superior professional skill, and his unfaltering devotion to duty, Lieutenant Commander Taft undoubtedly saved the injured man’s life, and was instrumental in removing the threat of death or injury from other personnel in the vicinity of the operating room, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


  1. Nice article. I guess I just found the PDF the most disturbing–that the SSS would need to “market” the concept to the Armed Services Committee, and that I would be required to list my major “skill” yearly with the SSS, as would all women. It’s a major change from current draft policy.

  2. The government already maintains a contingency plan–as indeed it should–for induction of medically trained personnel, both those with prior military experience and those without such experience. Long before reaching for an involuntary draft, the services would first seek former service members, persons presently on active duty with the U.S. Public Health Service, persons who are on the IRR post-active duty who have not yet completed their eight year reserve affiliation, active reservists who have not yet been called to active duty. Volunteers would be solicited first, followed only then by involuntary callup of drilling reservists. The latter groups haven’t even been fully utilized, never mind any of the previous personnel pools. So this hysteria about a doctor’s draft is just fearmongering, whatever ideological stripe.

  3. FlightERDoc says:

    Good article. One point to stress: THE ONLY PEOPLE who have posited a draft are the democrats.

    And, with Kerry’s plan to increase the size of the standing army by 30,000 (or more, depending on how the “two divisions” are structured), and the pretty good chance that a lot of mid-career and near-end career military will decide to leave if Kerry is elected (as happened with Carter), how will Kerry fill those slots?

    I joined the AF a little before Carter’s presidency (I graduated from undergraduate pilot training about the time of Carter’s inaguration) and the drain of qualified mid-level NCO’s was terrible – it actually led to an engine failure I had while flying, causing the loss of an aircraft and injuries to me and my WSO. The maintenance troops simply didn’t have the experience, and since lesser qualified people were getting promoted up to positions they couldn’t handle, we lost an airplane (and almost our lives).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Who were the two democrats that voted in favor of the draft? There were 402 nays and 2 yeas. There is a list of all the nays and one of the “not votings” but I couldn’t see where it listed the two yeas. Anyone know?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Never mind, I found it! Thanks

  6. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio put it more forcefully, but if you base your arguments on what politicians have stated unequivocally (“read my lips, no new….”) — especially in this administration — you are surely swigging down the Kool-Aid.

    Now… personally, I favor a draft. But as during the Vietnam War (which I would dutifully have served in if I hadn’t been released from active duty in May 1964, mercifully having declined the Subic-based Swift boat they’d offered me to re-up), I can sympathize with youthful disinclinations to risk death in a war that has so little positive going for it.

  7. Nice write-up. I love the citation–nice work by the Surgeon.

    On a side note, if the Marine’s ever decided to develop their own group of docs (rather than Navy Devil Docs, etc)–would they make them “riflemen first” or would the Geneva convention frown upon that?

  8. Jeremy,

    The USMC will never have their own docs, and for good reason.

    The rationale (which has some admitted exceptions) is that the Marines are all tooth, and they’ll get their tail from the Navy. I think that’s a good idea, given their wholly-owned-subsidiary status. It also helps to feed their warrior ethos, “A rifleman first”. No weakling caregivers wear the Eagle Globe and Anchor. Heh.

  9. Interesting follow-up post by Bard-Parker here:

    And I have a comment following.

  10. bill reith says:

    Medical or not, a draft makes unfortunate sense. If the Army is extending the period when current members have to be in Iraq, but at the same time is talking about reducing the amount of time people spend there, then either they know something about the war ending, or they’re working on a way of keeping it staffed. I hope for the former, but I expect the latter. As for the idea that medical people should be exempted (either ‘just because’ or because they think they should be), I refer to the thoughts of Richard Bach, who suggested, somewhat whimsically, that war would end if flyers refused to fly. That didn’t fly (no pun intended), and the medical exemption likely wouldn’t, either. There *is* no moral high ground in this morass. Feel free to sing along: Waist deep in the Big Muddy, The big fool says to push on.

  11. John Schedler says:

    The (former) grunt Marine in me (Alpha 1/26, 67-69) has to ask: did the Corpsman get a Navy Cross, too? I do not begrudge the doc his — well earned — but the Corpsman shared the same risk & made it possible.

  12. Well, in fact he was. I recall Dr. Taft telling me the corpsman was also awarded the Navy Cross, but was kiled in action in Vietnam.

    Here’s his citation, from the same site:

    Henry, Daniel B.
    Hospitalman First Class, U.S. Navy
    1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division
    Date of Action: August 27, 1967
    The Navy Cross is awarded to Hospitalman First Class Daniel B. Henry, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in action on August 27, 1967, while serving as an operating room technician with the 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division, at Da Nang, Vietnam.

    The details are a little thin here, admittedly, but he was an OR tech in the same med BN, and the date of action is the same.

    And, from the Wall registry comes this:

    HM1 – E6 – Navy – Regular
    32 year old Married, Caucasian, Male
    Born on Jun 19, 1935
    Length of service 12 years.
    His tour of duty began on Mar 15, 1967
    Casualty was on Jan 31, 1968
    Hostile, died of wounds
    Body was recovered
    Panel 36E – – Line 14

  13. Gruntdoc,

    I had a feeling you’d say that about the Marines. ;-)


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