GOP Senators Propose Measure to Ban Dishonorable Discharges of Unvaccinated Military Members

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Four Republican senators introduced a measure on Sept. 21 that would prevent the Pentagon from dishonorably discharging military service members who have opted to hold back from getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), is called the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a member of an Armed Force under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of a military department subject to discharge on the basis of the member choosing not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may only receive an honorable discharge,” the text of the bill (pdf) reads.

According to the text: “Reports of adverse actions being taken, or threatened, by military leadership at all levels are antithetical to our fundamental American values. Any discharge other than honorable denotes a dereliction of duty or a failure to serve the United States and its people to the best of the ability of an individual.”

The proposed legislation comes after the Biden administration announced mandatory shots in August and began to compel all military departments to implement the COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Meanwhile, service members who have survived a previous COVID-19 infection aren’t automatically exempt from being required to be fully vaccinated.

The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all have set deadlines for COVID-19 vaccination for service members and reserve members. If they fail to comply and don’t have a pending exemption request, they could be punished via “relief of duties or discharge.”

A dishonorable discharge would mean that the individual would have to surrender a slew of rights and benefits, including ownership of any sort of firearm or ammunition, access to the G.I. Bill for further education, Veterans Affairs home loans and medical benefits, military funeral honors, and reenlistment in another military branch.

By Mimi Nguyen Ly

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