Troops are now allowed to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine without facing career-ending consequences since the Pentagon’s vaccine order has been lifted. However, Defense Department officials warned lawmakers on Tuesday that those who refused the vaccine in the past may still be discharged for “disobeying a lawful order.” Gilbert Cisneros Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel, emphasized the importance of following lawful orders, and the military is reviewing these cases to determine the appropriate action.
Gilbert Cisneros Jr. told members of the House Armed Services Committee:
“It’s very important that our service members follow orders when they are lawful, and there are thousands that did not,”
“The services are going through a process to review those cases to make a determination what needs to be done.”
The military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been a controversial topic since its implementation two years ago, with Republican lawmakers denouncing defense officials for attempting to circumvent a law rescinding the mandate passed in late 2021. From August 2021 to January 2023, about 16,000 service members refused to receive the vaccine without requesting an exemption or accommodation. As a result, approximately 8,400 were separated from service.
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., chairman of the committee’s military personnel panel.
“What’s the point of getting into these cases?… You’re still punishing them for not taking the vaccine.”
Although service leaders were instructed to repeal all COVID-19 vaccination policies by March 17, troops who refused the vaccine may still be subject to other regulations that warrant additional punishment. The individual services will determine these consequences, and officials will look into the cases to ensure that other aggravating factors, such as misconduct, are not involved.
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