updated 12/21/2006 8:44:13 PM ET 2006-12-22T01:44:13

President Bush’s secretary for Veterans Affairs said Thursday that “society would benefit” if the country brought back the military draft, then clarified that he doesn’t support such a move.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson spoke a day after Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq. The administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that its position had not changed.

Nicholson, who served in Vietnam, was in New York to announce a partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help homeless veterans find housing.

A reporter suggested that the all-volunteer armed forces attract a disproportionate number of minorities and people trying to lift themselves out of poverty, and asked Nicholson if the draft should be reinstated to make the military more equal.

“I think that our society would benefit from that, yes sir,” Nicholson said.

The secretary recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels, noting that the draft “does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving.”

He later issued a statement saying his comments had been misconstrued and that he does not support bringing back the draft.

Nicholson, a graduate of the military academy at West Point, N.Y., served eight years on active duty as a paratrooper and Ranger-qualified Army officer, then 22 years in the Army reserve. He has held the VA post since February 2005.

Bush said he has not made up his mind about whether to send more troops to Iraq. No timetables or totals have been outlined publicly, but by some accounts roughly 20,000 troops could be added to the 140,000 already there.

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