As accusations and denials about the resurgence of a military draft emerged in the presidential campaign, the U.S. Selective Service has updated its contingency plan to draft medical professionals in the case of a major war or attack. Government and hospital officials, however, say the update is routine and was not sparked by any specific new need.
In other words, they say no draft-for medical professionals or anyone else- is forthcoming.
Still, with staff shortages a significant challenge for hospitals and other providers across the country, even talk of drafting medical professionals into military service is cause for concern.
"You find yourself saying, `I hope they realize that in a world in which we've got shortages of staff (a draft) would add to the shortage,' " said James Bentley, senior vice president of strategic policy planning at the American Hospital Association.
In 1987, Congress instructed the Selective Service, which is responsible for implementing a military draft if circumstances call for it, to write a plan for how doctors and other healthcare professionals would be called into service. That plan is updated periodically, according to a service spokesman, and recent changes reflect a routine examination of the plan.
"The bottom line is we're not getting ready for a regular draft or a healthcare draft ... other than planning to keep our programs up to speed" if the need arises, said Richard Flahaven, a Selective Service spokesman.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder added, "There is no need for such a contingency plan" given the strength of the military's healthcare complex, which includes 130,000 active-duty medical personnel as well as 75 hospitals and 450 clinics around the globe.
Healthcare providers, Winkenwerder said, should "absolutely not" be worried about losing medical staff to a draft.
Bentley said it makes sense that the government reviews its plans for a medical draft, especially given that war is not always a choice as it was in Iraq. The AHA was not involved in helping update the contingency plan, Bentley said.