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U.S. President Joe Biden’s lack of military service has been frequently commented on by conservatives, even before he became president.
Snopes readers also sent us numerous requests to look into Biden’s history of draft deferments, asking for confirmation of the circumstances under which he was able to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. Some asked us specifically if it was true that he received five draft deferments because of his asthma as a teenager.
Biden’s Selective Service records were released in 2008 to The Associated Press by the campaign of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. According to the documents, Biden did receive a total of five draft deferments when he was an undergraduate at the University of Delaware and when he was a law student at Syracuse University. However, all of these deferments were granted by reason of his status as a student, not because of any medical condition.
According to the draft classifications, one can receive a deferment as a student. Classification 1-S denotes, “Student deferred by status – (H) high school; (C) college.” Before Congress reformed the draft in 1971, “a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student making satisfactory progress in virtually any field of study.” Under current law, college students can have their induction postponed “only until the end of the current semester,” while seniors can postpone it until the end of the full academic year.
David Wade, then an Obama campaign spokesperson, told The Associated Press, “As a result of a physical exam on April 5, 1968, Joe Biden was classified 1-Y and disqualified from service because of asthma as a teenager.”
I-Y means “Registrant qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency.” This classification was abolished in December 1971.
Less detailed records of Biden’s Selective Service draft card are available on the National Archives website.
The Associated Press noted that in Biden’s memoir, “Promises to Keep,” he did not mention his asthma, and described an active childhood as a lifeguard and football player. Biden is not the only leader who took advantage of student deferments. Former Vice President Dick Cheney also received five draft deferments. His first four were because he was a student, and the fifth because he became a father.
While Biden did indeed receive five draft deferments, these were due to his status as a student. Later, when he underwent a physical exam, he was classified unable to serve owing to his history of asthma. As such, we rate this claim as “Mostly True.”
“Changes From Vietnam to Now.” Selective Service System, https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/changes-from-vietnam-to-now/. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
Chase, Randall. “Biden Deferred, Disqualified from Vietnam Duty.” SFGATE/Associated Press, 1 Sept. 2008, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Biden-deferred-disqualified-from-Vietnam-duty-3196927.php. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
“Joe Biden’s Draft Record Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump’s. Do Democrats Care?” InsideSources, 9 June 2019, https://insidesources.com/joe-bidens-draft-record-looks-a-lot-like-donald-trumps-do-democrats-care/. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
“Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.’s Selective Service Draft Card and Selective Service Classification Ledger.” National Archives, 7 Mar. 2019, https://www.archives.gov/foia/joe-biden-selective-service-draft-card. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
“Return to the Draft.” Selective Service System, https://www.sss.gov/about/return-to-draft/. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
Seelye, Katharine Q. “THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: MILITARY SERVICE; Cheney’s Five Draft Deferments During the Vietnam Era Emerge as a Campaign Issue.” The New York Times, 1 May 2004. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/01/us/2004-campaign-military-service-cheney-s-five-draft-deferments-during-vietnam-era.html. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.
“Trump on Defensive as Critics Seize on Reports He Insulted U.S. Veterans.” Reuters, 7 Sept. 2020. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-trump-military-idINKBN25Y05B. Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.