visit each county of their district at least once in three months, and shall examine for discharge or recommendation for light duty all conscripts who have been furloughed under the provisions of the preceding section. Every discharge granted by said medical board shall be final and shall relieve the party from all military service in the future when the disability is permanent and the cause of it is set forth in the certificate."
It is greatly to be feared that under the terms of this section considerable numbers of men will be finally discharged from military service while competent to aid in the defense of their country. The terms of the law do not require that the disability shall be total, as well as permanent, in order to entitle the soldier to be discharged. The loss of a limb, or stiffness of a joint, or even the loss of the dexter forefinger, lameness, nearsightedness, partial deafness, are instances of disability, permanent but not total, and which may well exist without rendering the individual incompetent to perform valuable service in posts, garrisons, or even in active operations.
The number of surgeons required for the duty imposed by this section would be about 150 in addition to the local physicians. We have no medical officers to spare from attendance upon the troops and in hospitals, so that it would be necessary to appoint this number of new officers who would generally be drawn from men in active service in the field. After the first visit to the different counties these officers would have so little to do as to be practically supernumeraries supported by the Government at great cost, and with the loss of their services in the field. Of the three surgeons who are to compose the board, only two are to be public officers; so that any resident physician of a county, in connection with a single Army surgeon, would have power by action, from which there is no appeal, to discharge permanently from service any inhabitant of the county in which he practices his profession. When we consider the strong opposition manifested in many districts of the country to the system of conscription, and the many influences which are resorted to by those who seek to escape service, there is much cause to fear that the effect of these provisions will be to deplete our reduced forces to a serious extent, and I hope it will be the pleasure of Congress to repeal this section or materially to modify its provisions.