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Republicans Urge Full Reinstatement of Discharged Military Due to Vaccine Mandate

December 7, 2022

With thousands of America’s men and women in uniform expelled from the military due to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Republican lawmakers are urging Congress to reinstate discharged servicemembers as the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) inches closer to passage.

On Wednesday, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) signaled his support for restoring discharged troops, tweeting, “We owe it to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces to reinstate members dismissed for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine WITH backpay.”

During a Senate press conference, Lee relayed the story of a serviceman affected by the mandate discharge policy. “A Marine named Matthew Schaffer who is married and has young children had a religions objection to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. He filed for his application for approval of his religious objection to the vaccine mandate within the Department of Defense. … His religious objection-based exception was never acted upon — it was effectively pocket vetoed. They rode it out so long that it became meaningless, and they fired him, forcing this young Marine, his wife, and his young children to move into his parents’ basement. As if they needed to add insult to injury, they’re now seeking to recoup $21,000 from Mr. Schaffer based on the argument that he violated his agreement with the Marine Corps. by not serving the amount of time to which he had agreed.”

Lee went on to emphasize that he will not vote to move the NDAA forward unless a reinstatement provision is added. “I’m going to continue to honor the promise that I made in signing a letter with a couple dozen of my colleagues that I’m not going to vote for cloture on this thing unless we’re given a meaningful opportunity to address this issue in this bill. I think we need to do that — we owe it to them. Our national security depends on it in many ways. Recruitment is down; morale is down in part because of stuff like this.”

On Wednesday, Fox News reported that Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will “applaud” the current version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that removes the vaccine mandate for troops, but will also introduce further legislation that would reinstate military personnel who were ousted over the mandate and would also provide back pay.

“The removal and reprimand of our servicemembers during the largest land war in Europe since World War II, while in the midst of a recruiting crisis, may very well be the most irrational decision made by a sitting president,” Cruz said. “… However, this fight is not over yet. There are servicemembers who were discharged, reprimanded, and harassed into leaving our armed forces — and we must correct that injustice.”

On November 30, a group of 13 Republican senators led by Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) sent a letter to Senate leaders demanding that the discharged troops be reinstated and given back pay. On Tuesday, Paul and Scott penned an op-ed declaring that they would not support the NDAA unless their amendment to “reinstate those who may have already been separated, with back pay” has been voted on.

“The United States simply cannot afford to discharge our brave men and women in uniform and lose the investments we have made into each and every one of them due to an inept bureaucratic policy,” the senators asserted. “While training costs vary between each service, the Army, for example, estimates it spends $15,000 in recruiting costs to bring someone into the service and another $50,000 to $75,000 to prepare them to join their first unit, depending on their job.”

The senators went on to note the military’s current problem with recruiting shortages, stating that “[m]ilitary recruitment is reportedly down 23 percent from annual targets. Therefore, due to costs and recruiting challenges, losing thousands of troops due to their vaccination status is a readiness issue that the Department should take extraordinarily seriously.”

The latest data released by the military show that approximately 7,800 servicemembers have been booted from the ranks for declining the COVID vaccine. In addition, over 60,000 National Guard troops and Reserve soldiers have been cut off from their duties and have lost pay and benefits due to refusing the vaccine.

Travis Weber, vice president for Policy and Government Affairs at Family Research Council, echoed the concerns of GOP lawmakers over the rights of discharged servicemembers.

“While it is positive that the military’s unnecessary and outdated vaccine mandate is reversed by the NDAA, those servicemembers who have been unfairly thrown out of the military over this still need justice,” he told The Washington Stand. “To give them any type of discharge other than honorable would not be fair at all. These individuals really need to be given the opportunity to be reinstated as well.”

Sources close to the matter say that the NDAA will be voted on in the House Wednesday evening.

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.