GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops

A group of Republican senators on Tuesday unveiled legislation seeking to prohibit the Department of Defense from issuing dishonorable discharges for U.S. troops who do not comply with the military’s vaccine mandate for all uniformed personnel. 

GOP Sens. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Defund the vaccine mandate Biden presses companies to get ahead of vaccine mandate MORE (Kan.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government The CDC's Title 42 order fuels racism and undermines public health Ocasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday MORE (Texas), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordBill requiring companies report cyber incidents moves forward in the Senate Manchin's 'red line' on abortion splits Democrats Lankford draws second GOP primary challenger in Oklahoma MORE (Okla.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) announced in a press release that the bill, called the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act, states that a member of the military who refuses the COVID-19 vaccine "may only receive an honorable discharge."

The bill comes after Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Marine who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal sentenced Air Force general becomes second woman to head US military command Military judge blasts Marine Corps's handling of officer who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal MORE’s order last month requiring all active-duty personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which was followed by announcements of deadlines and refusal procedures by the various military branches. 

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Last week, the Army said that “continued failure” to comply with the vaccine mandate “could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment – to include relief of duties or discharge.” 

Marshall, a physician and Army Reserves veteran, noted Tuesday that U.S. service members who are dishonorably discharged give up certain rights and privileges, including access to the GI Bill for further education and veteran-specific home loans and medical benefits.

The Kansas senator said in a statement that while “vaccinating our servicemembers against COVID-19 is an important effort,” getting the vaccine “should be a personal choice between an individual and their doctor.” 

“There is no question about it: American heroes should not be treated as felons because of their personal medical choices,” Marshall added. 

Cruz wrote in a statement that it would be “an insult to our servicemen and women who have served with honor to dishonorably discharge them for refusing the COVID vaccine.” 

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“It is the same way we dishonorably discharge those convicted of serious crimes such as treason, desertion, sexual assault, and murder,” he added. “Forcing all service members, including pregnant women and those who have already had COVID-19, to receive the vaccine is just one more example of President BidenJoe BidenManchin lays down demands for child tax credit: report Abrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability MORE and his administration putting politics ahead of science.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continued to recommend that individuals who are pregnant and those who have previously been infected with COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. 

The Senate bill Tuesday follows similar language introduced by Tennessee Rep. Mark GreenMark GreenCities become pawns in redistricting game GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops A quick reaction force in India could prevent the worst of Taliban rule in Afghanistan MORE (R) in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2022. 

Many Republican leaders have pushed back on recent vaccine mandates issued by the Biden administration, including for businesses with 100 or more employees, arguing that the requirements are a form of government overreach. 

However, President Biden has defended the move, emphasizing the importance of boosting vaccinations to combat the highly contagious delta variant.