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Republicans cheer military vaccine mandate rollback, but stress service members must be 'made whole' again
Republicans say the Biden admin must correct records of service members discharged for not taking the vaccine
By Kelly Laco
OutKick founder Clay Travis says the House repealing the military’s COVID vaccine mandate ‘sends a message’ to other institutions and will help recruitment issues in the armed forces.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn and other GOP lawmakers are calling for additional steps to protect unvaccinated members of the military who were terminated from the armed forces now that Congress is poised to roll back the Biden administration's military COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News Digital that the language she successfully pushed for inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was designed to combat the military's "problem with recruiting and retention."
"I'm very grateful that we were able to build bipartisan, bicameral support and get this into the body of the bill," she said. "Getting this issue off the table and bringing some common sense to bear around the vaccine mandate was a very important thing to do."
The Pentagon has 30 days after the passage of the NDAA to terminate the vaccine mandate. Blackburn also said that once the mandate is officially rescinded, Congress can focus on ensuring those troops who were discharged are "made whole" and have their benefits restored.
"There are many that have been removed," Blackburn said citing the thousands of service members who have been discharged across all military branches for refusing the vaccine. "And some of those had already had COVID. Some of those had medical exemptions that were denied. And we are continuing to work through this issue, and to be certain that people are made whole will be important. But right now it is getting this lifted, and once we have done that, we will be able to move forward."
"We are pleased that the final conferenced bill includes language mirroring our amendments’ efforts to protect troops from being fired due to Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate without fair appeal and to the harm of service readiness," said GOP Sens. Blackburn, Roger Marshall, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mike Braun, Deb Fischer, Joni Ernst, Tommy Tuberville, Mike Crapo, Steve Daines, John Hoeven and James Risch after NDAA text was released Tuesday evening.
The military is suffering from low recruitment and retainment, in large part due to its own restrictive policies, including the vaccine requirement.
U.S. Coast Guard members who are nearing 20 years in military service but have not complied with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate due to religious objections are now being terminated just before they gain full access to promised military pension and retirement benefits.
Other lawmakers are speaking up about this, saying Congress needs to take additional action.
"These heroes deserve justice now that the mandate is no more. The Biden administration must correct service records and not stand in the way of re-enlisting any service member discharged simply for not taking the COVID vaccine," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement.
"Make no mistake: this is a win for our military. But in 28 days the real work begins – the new House Republican majority will work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist the men and women in uniform who were unfairly targeted by this Administration," said McCarthy, who is poised to become the next speaker of the House in January if he secures enough votes.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., told Fox News Digital that he is "disappointed" the NDAA text doesn't provide for full reinstatement of discharged service members, but the incoming House majority will right that wrong.
"We shouldn’t underscore the significance of this win for freedom and religious liberty – but the vast majority of our military personnel have already been coerced into receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or involuntarily separated," said Steube. "I’m disappointed the NDAA does not include language for a full reinstatement of these individuals into the military. I can assure you in the GOP majority, we’re going to do what’s right and make sure the DoD corrects military records, processes backpay, reinstates full benefits, and ensures a smooth reenlistment process for those servicemembers who want to re-enter after being wrongfully discharged."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News Digital he is dissatisfied with the House proposal to strip the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the text of the national defense spending bill, and said it must go further to "stop the demoralization" that U.S. service members have endured.
"The repair has to be reinstating individuals who want to come back, correcting their records, allowing these individuals who have served honorably to be recognized that way," he said.
Issa said he will propose two types of legislation in the next Congress, when Republicans take the majority. The first will be the "Religious Exemption Recognition Act," which would reinstate and restore those who refused the vaccine for "any number of valid reasons."
Second, he will establish a process to review religious accommodation cases that will be enshrined in federal statute, so it is "not at the whim" of the commander-in-chief to ignore the First Amendment.