The U.S. Army announced on Feb. 2 that it will immediately start discharging, or “separating,” soldiers who have refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Under a directive (pdf) issued by the Army, the order applies to regular soldiers, active-duty Army reservists, and Army cadets unless they have an exemption or a pending exemption.
“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement. “Unvaccinated soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”
Wormuth added that the service “will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”
Army soldiers who are discharged because they’ve refused the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be eligible for involuntary separation pay. They also might be “subject to recoupment of any unearned special or incentive pay,” the Army stated.
Other branches of the U.S. armed forces have begun to remove those who have chosen not to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The Army has not yet involuntarily separated any Soldiers solely for refusing the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the statement continued. “As of Jan. 26, Army commanders have relieved a total of six regular Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 3,073 general officer written reprimands to Soldiers for refusing the vaccination order.”
Officers and warrant officers who have refused the vaccine have until March to get it, according to the directive.
Soldiers who are eligible to retire before July 1 are “permitted to retire” via an “expedited process” rather than be kicked out of the Army, the directive stated. They have to submit retirement requests by March or within 14 days of their exemption denial.
“All soldiers, including those in an entry-level status, who are refusing to become vaccinated will be issued either an Honorable or General (under honorable conditions)” discharge, the Army order added, although it stated that troops with “additional misconduct” might not receive an honorable discharge.
The vast majority of all active-duty troops have received at least one dose, according to data provided by the government. About 79 uniformed military personnel across the different U.S. armed services have died from COVID-19.
In 2020, there were about 1.33 million active-duty Department of Defense members, including officers and enlisted personnel.
The Pentagon started requiring members of the military to get the vaccine last summer. The directive has drawn several lawsuits from current service members, including Navy SEALs, with some arguing that the federal government and Biden administration is denying them the ability to obtain a religious exemption to the vaccines.
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Reuters contributed to this report.