Four Republican senators introduced a measure on Sept. 21 that would prevent the Pentagon from discharging military service members in any way other than an honorable discharge, for those who have opted to hold back from getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Senate bill, introduced by Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), is called the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a member of an Armed Force under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of a military department subject to discharge on the basis of the member choosing not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may only receive an honorable discharge,” the text of the bill (pdf) reads.
According to the text: “Reports of adverse actions being taken, or threatened, by military leadership at all levels are antithetical to our fundamental American values. Any discharge other than honorable denotes a dereliction of duty or a failure to serve the United States and its people to the best of the ability of an individual.”
The proposed legislation comes after the Biden administration announced mandatory shots in August and began to compel all military departments to implement the COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Meanwhile, service members who have survived a previous COVID-19 infection aren’t automatically exempt from being required to be fully vaccinated.
The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all have set deadlines for COVID-19 vaccination for service members and reserve members. If they fail to comply and don’t have a pending exemption request, they could be punished via “relief of duties or discharge.”
There are five main types of military discharges: honorable discharge; general discharge under honorable circumstances; discharge under other than honorable conditions; bad conduct discharge; and dishonorable discharge.
A dishonorable discharge would mean that the individual would have to surrender a slew of rights and benefits, including ownership of any sort of firearm or ammunition, access to the G.I. Bill for further education, Veterans Affairs home loans and medical benefits, military funeral honors, and reenlistment in another military branch, Cruz’s office noted in a release.
Marshall, who led in introducing the measure, said in a statement: “As a physician and veteran who is confident that the vaccine has saved countless lives, I believe vaccinating our service members against COVID-19 is an important effort; however, whether or not to receive the vaccine should be a personal choice between an individual and their doctor.
“Service members who refuse to get vaccinated, and are subsequently separated from the service, should not receive anything other than an honorable discharge. There is no question about it: American heroes should not be treated as felons because of their personal medical choices.”
Cruz echoed Marshall’s sentiments, adding in a separate statement: “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 [Joe] Biden and his administration putting politics ahead of science. I am proud to join Sen. Marshall on this crucial bill to ensure the proper steps are taken by the military chain of command in response to those seeking exemptions from this vaccine.”
The proposed legislation comes after Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), a physician and a former Army officer, earlier this month introduced similar language in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022.
Separately, the Biden administration has been imposing mandates on other groups and earlier this month issued COVID-19 mandates that involve all federal workers, government contractors, and their employees to be vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Biden is also seeking to compel private-sector companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing, which is expected to affect more than 80 million workers.
Editor’s note: this article has been further edited for clarity.