Contrary to popular belief, "only sons," "the last son to carry the family name," and "sole surviving sons" must register for the draft, they can be drafted, and they can serve in combat. However, they may be entitled to a peacetime deferment if there is a military death in the immediate family.
Provisions regarding the survivors of veterans were written into Selective Service law after World War II. Details have varied over the years, but the basic premise remains the same; where a family member has been lost as a result of military service, the remaining family members should be protected insofar as possible.
It is important to keep in mind that the provisions are directly related to service-connected deaths. The mere fact that a man is the only child or only son does not qualify him for consideration - he must be the survivor of one who died as a result of military service.
The present law provides a peacetime exemption for anyone whose parent or sibling was killed in action, died in line of duty, or died later as a result of disease or injury incurred in line of duty while serving in the armed forces of the United States. Also included are those whose parent or sibling is in a captured or missing status as a result of service in the armed forces during any period of time. This is known as the "surviving son or brother" provision. A man does not have to be the only surviving son in order to qualify; if there are four sons in a family and one dies in the line of duty, the remaining three would qualify for surviving son or brother status under the present law.
The surviving son or brother provision is applicable only in peacetime. It does not apply in time of war or national emergency declared by the Congress.
The original law, passed in 1948, exempted the sole surviving son of a family where one or more sons or daughters died as a result of military service. No restriction existed at that time to limit the exemption to peacetime. The provision was intended to protect families which had lost a member in World War II.
In 1964, recognizing that sons of World War II veterans were reaching draft age, Congress changed the law to include the sole surviving son of a family where the father, or one or more sons or daughters, died as a result of military service. At this time the peacetime-only restriction was also added to the law.
A further change was made in 1971, expanding the exemption to any son, not necessarily the sole surviving son, of a family where the father, brother or sister died as a result of military service. This provision was recently expanded to include mothers.
In addition to peace-time draft deferrment, the Department of Defense authorizes discharges for any son or daughter in a family in which the father or mother or one or more sons or daughters:
- Have been killed in action or have died when serving in the U.S. Armed Forces from wounds, accident, or disease.
- Are in a captured or missing-in-action status.
- Have a permanent 100 percent Service-related disability (including 100 percent mental disability), as determined by the Veterans' Administration or one of the Military Services, and are not gainfully employed because of the disability.
It also does not apply to commissioned officers or warrant officers unless they were involuntarily drafted into the Armed Forces (as there is currently no draft going on, that means commissioned officers and warrant officers cannot be released from service under this provision).
Additionally, service members who enlist, reenlist, or voluntarily extends his or her active duty period after having been notified of the family casualty on which the surviving status is based shall be considered as having waived his or her rights for separation as a surviving son or daughter.
A member who has waived his or her right to a separation as a surviving son or daughter may request reinstatement of that status at any time. However, a request for reinstatement shall not be granted automatically, but shall be considered on the merits of the individual case.