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Biden opposes honorable discharge guarantee for troops who refuse COVID vaccine

U.S. Army Maj. Bielosa Aworh receives COVID-19 vaccine at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 5, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Maxwell Bass)
September 24, 2021

President Joe Biden came out this week in opposition to the military guaranteeing service members who refuse the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine will receive an honorable discharge.

On Tuesday, the Biden White House submitted a Statement of Administration Policy voicing Biden’s support and opposition for various provisions in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. One key provision Biden voiced opposition to would guarantee U.S. military service members will be allowed to take an honorable discharge if they refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccines.

The provision of the 2022 defense budget, titled Section 716, was introduced by Rep. Mark Green (R-TN). The provision states, “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 White House stated, “The Administration strongly opposes section 716, which would detract from readiness and limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination. To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures.”

Last month, after the FDA granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin moved to require COVID-19 vaccines for the entire military.

Green’s provision was successfully introduced into the House version of the NDAA, which the House of Representatives passed on Thursday. The Senate will now have to pass its own NDAA bill, after which Congress will have to reconcile the two bills.

Reacting to the Biden administration’s opposition to his provision, Green tweeted, “@POTUS is trying to strip out my amendment preventing anything but an honorable discharge for servicemembers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine—an amendment so commonsense that EVERY Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee agreed to it!”

Green is a West Point graduate and served in combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, including as a helicopter flight surgeon with the elite Army Night Stalkers. Green participated in the mission to capture Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his decorations include the Bronze Star and the Air Medal with V Device for Valor.

The Biden administration’s Tuesday Statement of Administration Policy, also came out in opposition to another provision of the NDAA — Section 720 — which would require the military to establish set standards for the various administrative, religious or medical reasons under which a service member may refuse a vaccine, including if they have an antibody test result establishing that they have had a prior COVID-19 infection.

Section 720 of the NDAA is not the only effort being made to establish having survived a prior COVID-19 infection and gained natural immunity as a valid exemption from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Last month, retired Marine Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer Dale Saran introduced a lawsuit arguing that existing military policies already allow service members who have survived prior infections of some diseases exemptions from “unnecessary immunizations.” Saran’s lawsuit is requesting a federal judge to declare that the existing vaccination exemption policies for service members who have survived past infections also applies in the case of COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Biden White House said it “strongly opposes” Section 720 of the NDAA, arguing that it “would create a new and overly broad exemption from the vaccination requirement for previous infection that would undermine the effectiveness of the requirement.”