Defense officials will not be allowed to give other than honorable discharges to troops who refuse COVID-19 vaccines once the new Defense Authorization Bill is enacted.
But even before that, department heads opted for less confrontational layoffs as they begin to remove some of these people from the ranks.
On Thursday, Marine Corps officials announced 103 servicemen have been separated in recent weeks for refusing the vaccine, which was mandated for all troops by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin earlier this summer.
Earlier in the week, the Air Force announced it had fired 27 airmen for failing to meet the requirement.
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The punishment for not following orders could have included a dishonorable discharge designation, a move that would bar these individuals from being eligible for a host of veteran benefits, including GI Bill assistance and home loans from the Veterans.
But Major Jim Stenger, spokesman for the Marine Corps, said in almost all cases so far people have been fired with “general, honorable” designations. Ann Stefanek, Air Force media operations chief, said all demobilized airmen were granted honorable or general status under honorable conditions.
“The Air Force Department follows the intention set out in the National Defense Authorization Act,” she said.
The authorization bill, finalized by Congress on Wednesday, states that “any discharge by a military member solely because the member has not obeyed a legal order to receive a COVID-19 vaccine must be a honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable terms.
The language was added to the bill by House lawmakers over the summer, shortly after the vaccine’s mandate was announced. While no Pentagon leader has made it clear that he will call for harsh punishment for vaccine refusals, many conservative lawmakers have linked the idea to their objections to policy.
Earlier this week, Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., And an Army veteran hailed the inclusion of the idea in the final defense bill, calling it “a big step forward. right direction ”for the military. He authored the original amendment on the issue during the House debate on licensing legislation.
“We must always stand up for our brave men and women in uniform all over the world,” he said.
Dishonorable discharge for vaccine refusal would be blocked under congressional proposal
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the defense bill in the coming days, making the vaccine refusal restrictions law.
Service officials will still be allowed to give dishonorable discharges to people who refuse the vaccine and commit other offenses, but will need to provide a broader justification for such moves.
Army and Navy officials said they have yet to officially treat any members of the service due to a vaccine refusal, but expect to do so from next month.
The deadlines for compliance with vaccination mandates for active-duty troops have passed for each of the four services. Military commanders said more than 95% of the active duty force had received the vaccine.