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Discrimination and Bias in Military Classification

The Draft and 4-F Military Classification

Men who registered for the draft were classified. They received a number and a letter designation such as 1-A, which meant they were available for military service.

Examiners developed objective qualification standards to determine a registrant’s fitness for military service. Yet, the standards were often applied in biased ways.

Objective Qualification Standards

An objective qualification standard establishes the minimum standards that must be satisfied for a position. Agencies may use multiple methods to assess applicants for a position (e.g., ability tests, work samples, structured interviews) to meet a minimum qualification standard. An agency will include education in meeting a minimum qualification standard only if the educational courses directly reflect the KSAs/competencies necessary to satisfy the duties of the job.

Some positions have medical requirements based on the arduous or hazardous nature of the work typically performed in these positions. A physical condition or impairment will be disqualifying only if it is directly related to the arduous/hazardous nature of the work and cannot be compensated by a prosthesis, mechanical aid, or reasonable accommodation.

Certain behavioral health conditions can be disqualifying if they: (1) persist despite treatment and impair function to a degree that is incompatible with the performance of the member’s office, grade, rank, or rating; (2) interfere with the performance of safety-related functions; or (3) pose a significant threat to the safety of others.

Psychiatric Screening

4-f was the Selective Service designation for men who were deemed unfit for military service due to physical or mental reasons. The military rejected those men completely.

Local draft boards screened the registrants by assigning them one of four major classifications, each identified by a number and a letter. Men assigned 1-A were considered available for military service, while registrants classified as 1-O or 1-OM were conscientious objectors available for civilian work that contributed to the national health, safety or interest. Those who were classified 2-A or 2-AM were deferred from military service for civilian jobs in war production or agriculture.

Screening standards were meant to be objective, but examiners often used the tests to disqualify certain groups of people, including African American and homosexual men. Taking psychiatric and environmental factors into account allowed officials to exclude these men from military service, even when their medical records were otherwise clear.


During the era of the draft, discrimination was an ongoing problem for many Black men and women. Officials tried to justify their exclusion from military service by claiming that African Americans were inferior and would not adapt to army life. They also argued that lack of access to education, health care, and jobs was proof of deficiency.

Objective qualification standards – such as height, weight, pulse rate, and blood pressure – inflated the importance of certain qualities while overlooking others. These standards were often used as stand-ins for other, more significant factors such as physical strength and stamina.

In some cases, a registrant may request a postponement or rehearing of his classification. He must submit a written request to the Selective Service office in his area. Induction will be delayed until the request is fully processed and adjudicated. If the registrant has been employed in fill-in work while waiting for induction, his experience will be credited as an extension of his civilian employment “immediately prior to” entering the military.


The military listed a number of physical disabilities that could disqualify someone for service. These included flat feet, poor eyesight, and venereal disease. A man who had these problems could apply to a local board to be reclassified. Many men worked hard to get reclassified. Some bought glasses, had dental work, and sought treatment for syphilis.

Classification ledgers chronicled each registrant’s status, which included a classification and code. Local and appeal boards processed registrants’ claims for deferments, postponements and exemptions from military service.

In the event of an emergency call-up, all men would be classified 1-A unless they were exempted from service by a local or appeal board. Induction notices would be sent and registrants would report for examination and induction at a military entrance processing station (MEPS). Registrants with lower lottery numbers could make claims for reclassification and exemption. Those who were not exempted would be eligible to fill in for regular military employees while awaiting their induction.

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