South Dakota lawmaker looks to lower drinking age for military members

A South Dakota lawmaker has drafted a bill that would revise the drinking age for active military members. The bill proposes lowering it from 21 to 18.

While many veterans are cheering to this idea, medical professionals are concerned.

KSFY News reporter Kelley Smith spoke with an addiction counselor who says this reward for young military members could hand them some serious health risks.

Representative Tim Goodwin is a veteran, with his own experience being under 21 in the military.

He says changing the current drinking law is a freedom issue.

"They can go to these hell holes like Afghanistan and Iraq, and serve their country, and in a lot of cases put their life or their limb on the line, and we treat them like they're not an adult and I think that's wrong," he said.

This is an idea some veterans say they can get behind.

"I'm in the military, and my personal thoughts are if you can go to war you should be able to drink at an age of 18," National Guard member Christopher Grewing said.

"Having been a former military member myself I think an 18-year-old military member is compentent enough to handle that," Sioux Falls veteran Arnie Stenseth said.

Medical professionals are not on board though.

"From a clinical and a professional standpoint, I think that in the long ruin it would do more harm than good," Shane Gerlach said.

Gerlach is an addiction counselor.

He says there is a reason the federal government made the drinking age 21.

"Science tells us that the mind doesn't stop developing until your 25, so the earlier we start drinking, the more damage in done to the brain," he said.

He says the risks don't stop at brain damage.

"We also find that the earlier you start drinking, the harder it is to quit," he said.

This could add a bump in the road. Current federal law says any state with a drinking age lower than 21 can lose 8 percent of federal highway funding, something Goodwin says he isn't worried about.

Goodwin says if this passes in South Dakota, other states could follow suit.

We reached out to many other millitary branches and are waiting to hear back.