It took an act of Congress, but the Department of Defense has finally ended the contentious vaccine mandate for all members of the military. Without that intervention, the Pentagon would still be throwing people out of the service for not being vaccinated. Many critics of the policy considered it an unreasonable demand that all US armed forces be immunized for COVID-19 – and all the variants – despite religious objections or reluctance based on health concerns.
When the military first encountered what it believed to be a significant readiness issue, there was no lack of criticism. As Liberty Nation reported:
“First, Secretary Esper did not exercise leadership because he relied on the chain of command. The military is a hierarchy where senior leadership provides broad direction and the commanders in the field execute that direction tailored to the circumstances on the ground… The second line of attack on the secretary is that he and the Pentagon were slow to respond to what was a crisis back on January 22 .”
Vaccine Mandate Poorly Applied
The Biden administration’s solution was simple: Vaccinations for the US military will be mandatory – no exceptions. The Secretary of Defense established the mandate in August 2021 after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine as a safe treatment for the coronavirus. Waivers were available for strong religious convictions, but few were granted. “But tens of thousands of requests for religious exemptions plagued the services, resulting in multiple lawsuits that as of the end of 2022 left the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force under injunctions preventing the involuntary separation of any service members who had been denied a waiver,” Meghann Myers reported in Military Times.
Refusing to be vaccinated would result in being drummed out of the military with a less-than-honorable general discharge. And many took that ignominious route rather than be vaccinated and trash personal convictions. “The contentious political issue, which has divided America, forced more than 8,400 troops out of the military for refusing to obey a lawful order when they declined to get the vaccine,” the Associated Press reported. Finally, the mandate ended officially with the January 10, 2023, memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Discharged Military Service Members Still in Limbo
Unfortunately, for the over 8,000 discharged military members for whom the rescission of the mandate came too late, they are on their own to petition to have their less-than-honorable discharge reviewed for correction. “Former Service members may petition their Military Department’s Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military or Naval Records to individually request a correction to their personnel records, including records regarding the characterization of their discharge,” the memorandum reads. The directive also strikes a patronizing tone, with a paragraph beginning: “Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of Federal law.” Unless a service member decides to exercise that liberty, then all bets are off.
The vaccine mandate episode did not cast the Defense Department in a favorable light, from the beginning of the COVID pandemic to Congress demanding a course correction. After all, a more thoughtful approach was possible. Had the military dealt with the inoculations against the coronavirus as a condition for deployments, as it does any other disease like chickenpox, Hepatitis A, and polio, there would not have been the uproar.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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