The Buzz

Roy Blunt’s Vietnam-era draft deferments become an issue in 2016 Senate race

Sen. Roy Blunt
Sen. Roy Blunt The Asociated Press

Sen. Roy Blunt’s claims about his Vietnam-era draft record have emerged as an issue in his re-election campaign against Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat.

In a news story posted online Wednesday morning, The Star reported Blunt received three draft deferments while a college student in the late 1960s. Blunt’s office did not disclose the deferments in 2015, when the newspaper specifically asked Blunt’s office about the senator’s draft history.

In a weekly telephone news conference with Missouri reporters later Wednesday, Blunt said he had not hidden the deferments.

“Anytime anybody ever asked me about that, I would have said I had student deferments and was then included in the first year of the lottery,” he said.

But Blunt’s office did not disclose the deferments in February 2015, when The Star directly asked if he had ever received one. The newspaper was researching a story about the relevance of military service to political campaigns.

“Senator Blunt was 1A status in 1969, the year of the first draft lottery,” the office had replied in an email. “He was 19 years old at the time. His number was in the low 300s and was never called.”

Federal draft records provided to The Star show Blunt’s draft status in 1969 wasn’t 1-A, or eligible for service. Instead, he was classified as 2-S, which is a student deferment.

That deferment, not a high lottery number, protected Blunt from the draft in 1969.

Blunt’s staff said this week that poor memories and difficult-to-obtain draft records may have contributed to the confusion over the senator’s deferments.

On Wednesday, Kander accused Blunt of misleading voters.

“I don’t sit in judgment of anyone who chose not to serve in Vietnam,” his statement said, “but hiding three deferments and saying you couldn’t remember them is completely inexcusable.”

Draft records show Blunt received student deferments twice in 1968, including one that was in effect at the time of the nation’s first draft lottery in December 1969. He received a third deferment on Dec. 22, 1969, three weeks after the lottery.

The holder of a student deferment could not be conscripted, according to the law in effect at the time. Blunt was an undergraduate student at Southwest Baptist College through spring 1970.

The law also required the registrant to request the deferment.

All three deferments were legal and not unusual. The draft board reclassified Blunt as 1-A in July 1970 after his graduation and seven months after he was assigned the number 325 in the draft lottery.

The high number made it virtually certain Blunt would not be drafted, reducing the impact of the reclassification.

Military service may become a larger issue in the 2016 Senate race. Kander served in Afghanistan, while Blunt has never served in the military. And Vietnam-era draft and service records have become issues in other campaigns, including those of presidential candidates Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Blunt sharply rejected Kander’s criticism of the statements about the draft.

“I don’t have anything to say in response to anything Secretary Kander has to say about most things,” Blunt said, “including this.”

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc