AP

Troops who refused COVID vaccine still may face discipline

Feb 28, 2023, 4:37 PM | Updated: 4:54 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The military services are still reviewing possible discipline of troops who refused the order to get the COVID-19 vaccine, defense officials told Congress on Tuesday, and they provided few details on how many of those who were forced out of the military would like to return.

Lawmakers expressed frustration with the news, questioning why service members should still face discipline since the vaccine requirement had been rescinded.

Gilbert Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel, told the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee that some service members who disobeyed the lawful order to get the vaccine — and did not seek any type of exemption — were still going through the review process.

“In order to maintain good order and discipline, it’s very important that our service members go and follow orders when they are lawful,” said Cisneros, adding that military services were going through each case to evaluate what should be done.

The vaccine mandate divided Americans and has remained a contentious political issue. More than 8,400 troops were forced out of the military for refusing to obey a lawful order when they declined to get the vaccine. Thousands of others sought religious and medical exemptions.

The Pentagon formally dropped the mandate in January, as a result of legislation signed into law in late December. But a number of discipline cases were pending when the requirement was rescinded.

Cisneros and top officials from the Army, Navy and Air Force told the subcommittee that in some cases troops may have committed other misconduct in addition to the vaccine refusal, so each case was being reviewed.

“What’s the point?” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., the subcommittee chairman. “We rescinded the mandate — what’s the point of continuing to review the cases?”

Banks said that a number of lawmakers were “infuriated by the double standard and message you send for rescinding a policy and still punishing them for not taking the vaccine.”

Lawmakers also pressed the defense officials on whether troops who were discharged were being allowed to return to service.

Erik Raven, the Navy undersecretary, was the only one who provided any estimate, saying that “we’ve had single digits in terms of numbers of individuals who have explored the option of returning to service.” It wasn’t clear if those individuals had formally sought reenlistment or merely asked about it.

Raven, along with Gina Ortiz Jones, the Air Force undersecretary, and Gabe Camarillo, the Army undersecretary, all told lawmakers that service members can go through the regular process for reinstatement. In most cases they will need to go to a review board to have their discharge status changed, and then they can seek to reenlist. They would have to meet all other enlistment standards.

Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., said he will push to allow those who were “unlawfully purged, in my opinion, to be reentered into the military with their full benefits, their back pay, and be granted what they should have been given, which is the chance to serve our United States military.”

Any move to provide back pay or other retroactive benefits would have to be addressed through legislation.

Lawmakers also questioned the impact of the discharges on the military, including whether it forced out many pilots. Jones said that only 40 Air Force officers were discharged for refusing the vaccine order, and another 14 opted to retire voluntarily. All the rest were enlisted personnel. Air Force pilots are all officers.

Overall, according to data compiled by the military as of late last year, the Marine Corps leads the services with 3,717 Marines discharged for refusing to follow the vaccine order. There have been 2,041 discharged from the Navy, 1,841 from the Army and 834 from the Air Force. The Air Force data includes the Space Force.

Defense officials have also suggested that in many cases those who refused the order and were discharged were in the very early stages of their military enlistment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

President Joe Biden gestures after speaking to graduating students at the Morehouse College commenc...

Associated Press

Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of U.S. students' anguish over the Israel-Hamas war.

2 days ago

Rudy Giuliani...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani is the final defendant served indictment in Arizona fake elector case

Rudy Giuliani has been served an indictment in Arizona's fake elector case for his role in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

3 days ago

Houston storms cause widespread damage on Friday...

Associated Press

Some in Houston facing no power for weeks after storms cause widespread damage, killing at least 4

Houston storms cause widespread damage on Friday, May 17. Thunderstorms hit the southeastern part of Texas, killing at least four people.

4 days ago

Man gets 30 years in prison for attacking ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer...

Associated Press

Man gets 30 years in prison for attacking ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer

A man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for attacking the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer.

4 days ago

audio from President Joe Biden’s interview about classified documents blocked...

Associated Press

GOP advances Garland contempt charges after White House exerts executive privilege over Biden audio

The move to release audio from President Joe Biden’s interview about classified documents was blocked on Thursday by the White House.

5 days ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Troops who refused COVID vaccine still may face discipline