At the end of August the Pentagon initially announced a mandate for military personnel across all armed service branches, ordering them to “immediately begin” Covid vaccination.
A memo issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the time directed the Secretaries of the Military Departments to “immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
However, when the mandate went out it remained unclear precisely what repercussions military members would face if they don’t comply – this also as a number of lawsuits have since been filed against the DoD by troops arguing that the order violates individual medical freedom. On Thursday the US Navy made it clear to their personnel: receive the jab by November 28 for be expelled from the service.
“With Covid-19 vaccines now mandatory for all military members, the Navy has announced plans to start processing for discharge those who refuse vaccination without a pending or approved exemption,” the US Navy said in the statement.
The Pentagon had so far remained ambiguous over whether servicemembers would actually be booted after the mandate cut-off date. With Thursday’s Navy announcement, other branches are expected to soon follow suit.
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The AFP notes that “The navy said that 98 percent of its 350,000 active duty members had begun or completed the vaccination process.” The rate among all branches combined is about equal – or just under this, but Pentagon officials worry about lagging vaccination rates in the reserves, given recent reports indicate just 80% of the reserves have had at least one dose.
The AFP report underscores that if official Pentagon policy becomes to expel troops across the board for refusing the shot, this could create a significant problem for US defense readiness, given it would inevitably involve a mass exit of troops.
“If all the services take the same hard line that the navy is taking, it risks losing as many as 46,000 troops, though presumably more will accept vaccinations before the deadline,” the report underscores.
What remains is the question of the terms under which they would be discharged at the end of November. The Navy said in the Thursday announcement those kicked out for not taking the vaccine “will receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions.”
However, there could be penalties like being forced to pay back certain training and education costs – or more significantly the loss of post military service benefits, as the official Navy guidance spells out: “This type of discharge could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.”
The Hill details based on the statement that processing discharges might begin immediately:
With the new guidelines in place, administrative actions can begin immediately against those who refuse the vaccine who do not have a pending or approved exemption request.
Those who refuse the vaccine will not be allowed to be promoted, advance, reenlist, or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case, the guidance notes.
Interestingly, the Navy while issuing the harsh punitive plan of action says it will recognize religious exemptions. Likely pastors, priests, and rabbis near military bases and at naval ports might begin to see a flood of random phone calls from “vaccine hesitant” military members seeking a way out of the impasse.