11 GOP Senators Want To Stop Military From Dishonorably Discharging Those Who Refuse Vaccine
By Toria Barnhart
Nearly a dozen Republican senators sponsored legislation that would stop the military from giving service members who refuse the coronavirus vaccine dishonorable discharges.
The proposed legislation would amend the imminent 2022 National Defense Authorization Act in an effort to protect troops who object to the Pentagon's vaccine mandate, according to Senator Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, who introduced the proposal. Marshall's legislation comes one day after the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) said some military members may not be eligible for their veterans' benefits after dismissal if they opt not to receive the jab.
"Think about the consequences of a dishonorable discharge," Marshall said on Thursday. He continued to list off several possibilities such as the loss of medical and education benefits, the right to own guns and the ability to reenlist in a different branch. "This is a big issue. It is a big deal."
Marshall added that he is primarily concerned about protecting thousands of service members who have not yet been approved for religious-based vaccine exemptions despite applying.
Ten other GOP senators including Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Shelley Moore-Capito of West Virginia, and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi endorsed Marshall's legislation.
His bill is similar to the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House, which must be passed annually to authorize military spending and policy priorities, but bars the military from issuing dishonorable discharges related to the vaccine mandate. The Senate must vote on it before it's passed.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a member of the armed forces subject to discharge on the basis of the member choosing not to receive the [coronavirus] vaccine may only receive an honorable discharge," Marshall's amendment states.
The other Republicans said on Thursday that they're also worried about what will happen to military members if they are not granted religious objections to the vaccine.
Their attorney Mike Berry of the First Liberty Institute, a Christian conservative legal group based in Texas, stated that there are around 40 Navy SEALs asking for an exemption based on "sincere religious objection to the vaccine," Military.com reported.
"When you join the United States military, you certainly give up some of your freedoms. We all recognize that," said Berry, a Marine and Afghanistan war veteran who now serves in the Marine Reserve as a lieutenant colonel.
"You do not give up your religious freedoms when you serve our country. And yet that is exactly what [the SEALs] are dealing with today -- being forced to choose between their faith and serving their country."
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), service members automatically lose their benefits if they receive a dishonorable discharge, such as a court marshal or desertion, but it's unclear what exactly will happen to those who refuse to receive the vaccine or are not granted an exemption.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for "compassion and understanding" from military commanders earlier this week as they manage subordinates who declined the vaccine, said Austin's spokesman John Kirby.
Nearly 8,500 members of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force missed the November 2 vaccination deadline and a number of other branches have vaccine deadlines coming up in the next few weeks. However, nearly 87 percent of active-duty troops have already received the vaccine.
Civilians in the DOD must be vaccinated by November 22 while active-duty troops in the Marine Corps and Navy must receive the shot by November 28. Soldiers have until December 15 and members of the National Guard and reservists have later dates, according to Military.com.
Marshall, a physician and former Army doctor, said he opposes the mandates but supports the vaccine.