The Senate has passed a draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would forbid the Department of Defense from dishonorably discharging members of the military whose only offense was refusing the vaccine.
The bill rider to the larger NDAA package was put forward by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to "prevent Joe Biden from dishonorably discharging servicemembers for choosing to not get the COVID vaccine."
The amendment to the NDAA would not protect men and women in the military from being discharged from the military, but it would protect them from the social stigma of a dishonorable discharge, only permitting those who refuse the vaccine to be discharged honorably.
In a statement on the legislation's passage, Marshall said "As a former Army doctor, I am proud the NDAA passed the Senate and included my amendment to ensure servicemembers will be protected from a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to get the COVID vaccine."
"Simply put," he continued, "a dishonorable discharge treats our heroes as felons. But, our American heroes deserve better."
"I support the vaccine, but I also support those who are defending our freedoms and have carefully weighed their decision on whether to receive the COVID vaccine," Marshall said. "With our amendment in the NDAA, we were able to provide our service men and women with the medical freedom they rightly deserve."
Since Biden announced his sprawling vaccine mandates in September, federal employees and military service members have faced the difficult choice to get the vaccine or face being fired or forced to accept a dishonorable discharge.
U.S. military code contains several different degrees of discharge for members of the military.
Those who complete their contract with the U.S. government and reach the end of their enlistment period with no major behavioral or criminal problems and then decide not to re-up are generally granted an honorable discharge. These vets are eligible for all the benefits they earned for their time in the service.
Sitting underneath honorable discharge in the military hierarchy is the general discharge, a type of administrative discharge caused by generally satisfactory performance but marked by failure to meet expectations under the military code of conduct. These are usually granted "under honorable conditions," but may result in losing benefits.
Another level down is the other than honorable discharge, which encompasses serious failings on the part of a servicemember, such as being convicted for breaking civilian law. Below this is the bad conduct discharge, a type of discharge that requires a servicemember be found guilty in court-martial proceedings. Generally, neither of these types of discharge allow a vet to keep their benefits.
Finally, the most serious type of discharge is the dishonorable discharge. In general, those who are court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the military are found guilty of felony offenses like murder or assault and can face time in military prison; In civilian life, they are permanently barred from firearm ownership and face the same voting restrictions as felons.
In short, dishonorable discharge has historically been reserved for the most reprehensible offenses, while less serious violations have historically been dealt with through general or bad conduct discharge.
The White House responded at the time with a statement that it "strongly oppose[d]" the legislation, showing Biden's support for the extreme punishment being meted out to those who refused his vaccine mandate.
Now that the Senate has passed the policy, it will head to Biden's desk for his signature, but it remains to be seen whether Biden will allow it to pass or will veto it and demand that Congress send him a changed version of the bill.