Failed to register for Selective Service - ruined for life?
September 21, 2009 8:07 PM   Subscribe

Let's say your a male and you've made a horrible mistake: you didn't sign up for Selective Service while you still had time. Is there any way to fix this?

You graduated high school and left home before the age of eighteen. Neither your high school nor your parents suggested you sign up, as your relationship with both high school and your parents was somewhat tumultuous. You didn't even realize -- literally had no clue -- it was important until returning to undergrad at age thirty to finish your bachelor's degree. You never needed Selective Service information for employment or school before. If you could go back in time and register, you would, a million times over.

Here are some of the consequences for not signing up, including ineligibility for college Financial Aid, all federal jobs, many state jobs, and more.

Clearly, not signing up was a terrible mistake. However, it seems that if you can "show by a preponderance of evidence" that failure to register was not knowing and willful, you may be able to have benefits re-instated.

Do any MeFites have experience with either (a) completing an education and looking for jobs while being a non-registered male or (b) being on the other side of the table and re-instating benefits for non-registered males? It seems like being a non-registered male shuts all sorts of doors -- how did you cope? Is it best to contact the SSS directly, or go through the financial aid office at school? For financial aid officers that may have let non-registered males through, what makes a good case? Would joining the army waive these penalties, and allow things like financial aid and government jobs again?

To be clear, I'm not looking to skirt the system, just trying to get a sense of what my options are, and if I have any hope of convincing someone to let me apply for financial aid or government jobs.

In other words, is there any way this can be fixed, or do I pay for the rest of my life?

Throwaway email at Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Education (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have passed your 26th birthday and are now being denied eligibility for Federal student financial aid, Federal job training, or Federal employment, or are having difficulty obtaining U.S. citizenship because you failed to register, you have the the following recourse available to you: Explain to the official handling your case (for example, a student financial aid officer) the reasons for your failure to register with Selective Service. A non-registrant may not be denied any benefit if he can "show by a preponderance of evidence" that his failure to register was not knowing and willful. Offer as much evidence supporting your case, and as much detail, as possible.

posted by dhartung at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2009

A non-registrant may not be denied any benefit if he can "show by a preponderance of evidence" that his failure to register was not knowing and willful. Offer as much evidence supporting your case, and as much detail, as possible. (empasis added)

Yeah, my understanding is that you basically have to swear on a stack of $holy_book that you will. not. register. before they even think about dishing out any consequences. I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by niles at 8:19 PM on September 21, 2009

My husband is in the exact same boat. He discovered just months after his 26th birthday that he wasn't registered, when he filled out his first FAFSA. We're paying for his education via personal funds and personal loans. We decided to move to Oregon because, unlike many (most?) other states, there are no penalties here (on a state level, such as driver's licenses, admission to state schools, jobs, etc.) for not being registered.

We talked to someone at SSS about it after we found out, and basically, unless you can prove you were locked up from the last day of your seventeenth year until the first day of your twenty-sixth, you cannot do anything to fix your un-registered status.

For what it's worth, I sent a letter to the ACLU about it a few years back because there are things now tied to being registered that are, in my opinion, basic civil rights (dude, you can't live without a driver's license). It's also not fair that women don't have to register, and thus only males are affected by this problem of not being registered. ACLU sent a letter back that said, in effect, wow that really sucks, we had no idea, good luck with that.

So, um, good luck. You can still live a good life, you just need to be a little more careful about some decisions than people who don't have the SSS problem.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:55 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

"We talked to someone at SSS about it after we found out, and basically, unless you can prove you were locked up from the last day of your seventeenth year until the first day of your twenty-sixth, you cannot do anything to fix your un-registered status."

That is perhaps one of the biggest problems with bureaucracies, someone can always say "no" and when answering "yes" means "more paperwork for me" that is often the expected answer. Just because one person at the SSS said "no" and one person at the ACLU said "dunno" doesn't mean that either is true and it sure doesn't look like it is.

Get the SSS to provide you with a written determination of what they will or will not do for you now, be sure to have them include the phrases "preponderance of evidence" and "knowing and willful". If the written answer is still "no", go talk to a local magistrate (or her office) and see what they recommend. Write your congresscritter and include a copy of the SSS determination, explain that you didn't understand your obligation and it was not willful. Acting as ombudsman between their constituents and the government is a big part of what the office of a US representative does.

It isn't fair and it isn't right, but stopping at the first "no" means you didn't try hard enough.
posted by fydfyd at 5:10 AM on September 22, 2009

This is a bit off topic, but I can't be the only 25-year-old here who's thinking "wait, did I register?"

You can check here.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:18 AM on September 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm just a few years older than you, and female. But, since you have to show a preponderance of evidence that you did not know about registering, here's where I remember seeing registration cards in Texas, at least (so you can explain how these did not reach you, etc.):
- School counselors handed them out, and reminders were made on the PA system some mornings
- It was available in Drivers Ed classes outside of the school (private classes)
- They were in the Post Offices
- They were given out when you tested for your driver's license
- They were mailed to homes
- They were in public libraries

Not to freak you out any more than you already are, but I believe there can be a 5-year prison sentence and/or $250,000 fine for not registering. If it were me, I'd get in contact with your Congressman/woman, and see what their office can do to help you.
posted by Houstonian at 6:13 AM on September 22, 2009

You can check here.

Holy shit, I registered back in 1987? I have no recollection of doing so.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:28 AM on September 22, 2009

This is another question I am answering from my recent former life as a college administrator:

We dealt with this a couple of times with non-traditional students. The biggest issue is the "preponderance of evidence," which nearly all financial aid advisors require as notarized and legal documentation. Combine this with what Houstonian points out as far as available chances and information to register, and it gets extremely difficult. For example, I worked as a non-trad's advocate in a case similar to yours--graduated from high school early, poor home life, and in addition to this, he was in the foster care system. I believe, and still believe it was a very typical case of a boy who was falling through the cracks, and would in no way have known where to look for his registration forms or that he had to, or what the consequences were. At the time I worked with him, he was an awesome 30-year-old guy with a family and a great job looking to go back to school to go into a different field and discovered this the way you did--applying for aid.

He provided documentation of his foster care status, letters from his former high school documenting his at-risk status at the time including statements from his former principal that as a boy he wasn't getting proper school or mentorship support and that she believed he could have easily not been told about registration, documentation of his early high school graduation, and notarized statements from his grandmother who was a care provider from time to time that she knew that neither she nor his parents nor the system never talked to him about it. He followed the financial aid procedure to the letter, turned in the documentation, and was asked, at his meeting with the FA officer, "have you ever been to the post office to mail a letter?" Of course, he said yes, and then she said "well, then I have to deny you as there are plenty of hanging notices in the post office that you have to register." And that was that, I talked with her at length on his behalf, and she said that the risks, from her perspective as an agent of the federal government, were too high to accept, probably, ANY ONE's case, regardless of the individual's case.

So, deep breath, that said, it is from my own anecdotal experience. There is discretion that can be exercised by different FA departments for different reasons, and it is likely important to have a frank conversation with yours about your chances and what kind of evidence they would look favorably upon. It seems to me that it may be worth it to you, as well, to discuss this with an attorney who specializes in these matters, or an excellent ACLU representative.

I give you my best hopes of luck with this--I know it's really frustrating.
posted by rumposinc at 6:50 AM on September 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

When I was that age, all I remember ever knowing about it was a quick mention in school about how it will prevent me from getting financial aid, and that I got a postcard in the mail. It seems conceivable that if you weren't in either of those places, you'd never know about it.
posted by gjc at 6:51 AM on September 22, 2009

Are you sure? My sons were signed up automatically while registering for their driver's licenses.
posted by 6:1 at 8:43 AM on September 22, 2009

It looks like I am wrong. Ignore my previous "no big deal" comment.
posted by niles at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2009

I found this webpage that may be of help.

The first thing I noticed, and this is on the SSS page as well but it didn't immediately stand out for me, is that for the financial aid aspect it depends on the decision of the financial aid administrator (not the SSS). So, that doesn't fix the real problem (not registering) but might be helpful for the immediate consequence (no financial aid).

But the second thing I noticed, at the bottom of the page, is a list of reasons financial aid administrators have accepted for lack of registration. There's more than just these points, but in particular -- might any of these have been true for you?

- Student tried to enlist in the military, but was turned down, and didn't realize that enlisting and registering for Selective Service are different requirements.

- Student was kidnapped by a parent in a custody battle, and that parent prevented the student from registering.

- Parents were illegal aliens and kept the student unaware of the requirement to register.

- Student claims he was not aware of the requirement and lived abroad for the entire period from age 18 through age 26.

- Student was aware of the requirement, but incorrectly believed that the requirement did not apply to him because he is his parent's only child or because all of his parent's other children are already serving in the armed forces.

- Student documents that he did submit a registration. (During the mid to late 1990s, data for some students who tried to register for Selective Service using the FAFSA form was never transmitted to Selective Service. In particular, data for students who had not yet reached their 18th birthday was never transmitted to Selective Service. A documented attempt to register demonstrates that the failure to register was not willful.)
posted by Houstonian at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2009

Holy shit, I registered back in 1987? I have no recollection of doing so.

Zomgees, I did too. I have no idea how that even occurred.
posted by Cogito at 12:59 PM on September 22, 2009

I didn't remember registering, either. But I do remember previously thinking "did I register?" and checking that web site.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:43 PM on September 22, 2009

I know this post is a couple days old, but I would like to share my experience. I am an american born citizen but grew up abroad. At the age of eighteen I aplied for financial aid at the US Embassy of that country, and to my knowledge up unitl a couple years ago I believed I registered with SS. At the age of 35 I was laid off from my job and I thought it would be a great oppurtunity to earn a college degree. As a displaced worker, I went through my local unemployment office and tried to see if they can help me with a career change. I was presented with this question, and of course I answered "yes" I registered with them, until my application came back and they said I didn't register. So I contacted SS and I was going to register with them, They said it was too late now since I am 35. They sent me a letter explaining that I would have to explain why I did not register. Simple explanation I was living abroad and I thought I already registered with them when I applied for financial aid for schooling back then. The manager of the office denied my application for assistance.

From that day on I knew it was going to be hard "FAFSA, government jobs, and many more perks" for registering was gone. I wanted to apply for a GS job but now its not going to happen. I do think it's unfair, women don't have to register, immigrants are given the oppurtunity to register even if they are past the age limit. Just because of a simple mistake of "I thought I did" now I have to suffer for life.....
posted by Boyet728 at 7:35 PM on September 29, 2009

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