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. MarshallOn The Money — Powell, Yellen face pressure on inflation Senate Republicans clash over government shutdown strategy Conservatives could force shutdown over Biden vaccine mandate MORE (Kan.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzProposal to move defense bill running into new GOP objections GOP anger with Fauci rises Senate nearing deal on defense bill after setback MORE (Texas), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Constant threats to government funding fail the American public GOP Senate candidate says Fauci is 'mass murderer,' should be jailed rather than 'hero' Rittenhouse 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 AustinRubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate Oversight GOP eyes records on 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 BidenBiden and Harris host 'family' Hanukkah celebration with more than 150 guests Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate 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 GreenNearshoring: Panacea, quick fix or something in between? Cities become pawns in redistricting game GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops 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.