More than 1,500 members of the U.S. Army have been separated from service because they refused to take the Covid-19 vaccination and the routine booster shots that are administered every six months.
The Army reports, however, that although 9,826 members of the U.S. Army National Guard and 5,241 members of the U.S. Army Reserve have refused the shots, none has been separated from service over the refusal. Others say the number of refusals is as high as 40,000.
A Department of Defense order went into effect July 1 that appears to be out of step with a pending lawsuit from Alaska, Texas, and other state governors
The Army and the other branches of the military have faced a relatively small number of outright refusals from National Guard members, and lawsuits from service members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and other branches have ensued, creating uncertainty about whether people can be separated from the National Guard if they refuse a Covid vaccination.
“The resulting uncertainty surrounding whether thousands of service members are about to be booted from the military comes as the branches struggle with what some are calling the hardest recruiting environment in a generation. Leaders have been busy lowering expectations for how many Americans will fill the ranks in the near future,” according to Military.com.
“And many service members who have declined to get vaccinated, particularly in the Department of the Navy and Department of the Air Force, are being protected under pending lawsuits for religious exemptions. In response, those services are trying to offer alternative vaccines such as Novavax, which throws cold water on one of the main arguments given by deniers seeking religious exemptions.”
According to the military-focused news website, although National Guard soldiers were ordered to be vaccinated by July 1, far later than most other services, “roughly 40,000 of them blew off the Pentagon’s directive. Troops in all branches have been required to be immunized against at least a dozen ailments including the flu and hepatitis for years, with the coronavirus vaccine a rare instance where vaccination has become a political hot potato.”
Beginning July 1, members of the Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve who have refused the Covid-19 vaccination orders by the Department of Defense, and who do not have a temporary or permanent exemption are prohibited from taking part in federally funded drills, training, and other duty, and they will not receive payment or retirement credit.
However, unit commanders have the option to place unvaccinated reserve component soldiers in an “appropriate duty status” for limited administrative purposes, such as receiving the vaccine, processing their exemption requests, or conducting separation procedures. Soldiers could receive compensation and retirement credit for these service days.
At the same time, a federal judge in Ohio ordered a preliminary injunction on July 29, preventing the U.S. Air Force from enforcing its identical Covid vaccine mandate on those who had submitted a religious exemption request. That injunction remains in effect until a full trial has resolved the matter. In addition, a judge ordered a temporary restraining order in a class action lawsuit among Air Force plaintiffs, preventing airmen, active reserve, National Guard, Air Force Academy cadets, the Air Force Reserve Command, and Space Force members from being forcibly vaccinated for Covid.
But the Army is continuing to publish requirements that include stark terms of separation for those guardsmen who refuse the vaccine.
Army policy allows soldiers to submit requests for temporary (up to 365 days) or permanent medical exemptions through medical channels. Soldiers may request an administrative (religious) exemption from the vaccine requirement. These requests are generally not being honored.
According to the Department of Defense, Army officials review each request individually to determine whether an exemption is appropriate. Medical requests are reviewed primarily by healthcare providers, and religious accommodation requests include interviews with the soldier’s chaplain, recommendations from the chain of command, as well as a public health and a legal review.
All soldiers, including National Guardsmen, who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to certain adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to continued service, and official reprimands, the Army wrote on its website. Those who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption “may also be subject to additional adverse administrative action, including separation.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy in January joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in federal court to stop the federal government from requiring National Guard members to obtain Covid-19 vaccines as a condition of their service to the state of the Alaska and its people. The U.S. Army National Guard operates under the chain of command of each state’s governor.
Dunleavy contends the unconstitutional vaccine mandate usurps state sovereignty and illegally undermines governors’ authorities as commanders of state National Guards.
“Protecting the freedom and liberty of National Guard members has fallen on responsible governors. The federal government has no authority to make health decisions for National Guard members who are at work under state authority. I pledge to protect that medical freedom and to challenge the trampling of our state’s rights under the 10th Amendment,” Dunleavy said earlier this year.
“The staggering number of unvaccinated Guardsmen sets up an unprecedented situation in which the Pentagon has drawn a line in the sand, but Army officials and Guard leaders interviewed by Military.com all agreed that so many troops being forced out would undermine the force,” Military.com wrote.
“Some are concerned whether unvaccinated troops pose any significant health risk worth a radical reduction in the size of the force. Many troops were vaccinated in January 2021, when the vaccine became available, but the small percentage of holdouts after the deadlines remains stubbornly steady.”