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Military & Veterans' Issues

Army starts discharging vaccine refusers

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Photo by 1st Lt. Angelo Mejia / 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
Col. Joshua Bookout, commander, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Conroy Bowl on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on Jan. 14, 2021.

The Army said Wednesday it would immediately start separating soldiers who decline the COVID-19 vaccine.

Under a directive issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, commanders must begin involuntary administrative separation proceedings for any soldier who has refused the COVID-19 vaccination order and doesn’t have an approved or pending exemption request. Commanders were instructed to process the separations “as expeditiously as possible.”

“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Wormurth said in a statement. “Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”

The directive, 2022-02, applies to regular Army soldiers, reserve-component soldiers serving on Title 10 active-duty and cadets. Soldiers who are set to separate, retire or begin their terminal leave before July 1 will get administrative exemptions.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Service members who get kicked out for defying the vaccination order won’t be eligible for involuntary separation pay and could face recoupment of bonuses.

“All soldiers, including those in an entry-level status, who are refusing to become vaccinated, will be issued either an Honorable or General (under honorable conditions)” discharge, the directive said, unless “additional misconduct warrants separation with an other-than-honorable characterization of service.”

Soldiers with that discharge characterization aren’t eligible for GI Bill benefits after they leave service. Under the conditions of this year’s defense spending bill, the military service branches are prevented from issuing other-than-honorable discharges on the basis of vaccine refusal alone.

Army officials reported Jan. 26 that 96% of the active Army and 79% of the Army Reserve was fully vaccinated. Up until then, the Army had not involuntarily separated any soldiers solely for refusing the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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