Marines and sailors who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of November will be released from the service, in a general but honorable discharge, officials with those services have said, making them ineligible for some benefits from the GI Bill.
An administrative order recently issued by Marine Corp leadership requires all Marines to receive the vaccine or they will be considered to have disobeyed an order. Active-duty personnel must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28, and reservists must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28.
The message sent to the troops said “Marines refusing to take the vaccine absent medical exemptions, religious accommodations or pending appeal,” will be processed for discharge and additional disciplinary action or even a court martial is not out of the question. The Navy has issued a similar message.
In addition, the order says Marines who refuse the vaccine will not be promoted or deployed, and those in command will be removed. And, those who are not fully vaccinated won’t be deployed, but instead will be reassigned locally.
“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue,” Capt. Andrew Wood, a Marine spokesman, said in a statement. “The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the speed with which it transmits among individuals have increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps mission. We are confident the vaccine protects our Marines, our communities and our nation.”
Wood said no information is available at this time on how many exemption requests have been filed. A report on those numbers will be provided after the deadline has passed, he said.
To be eligible for the full benefits of the GI Bill, as it was updated after Sept. 11, 2001, a service member must have an honorable discharge. Marines and sailors who are discharged for not being vaccinated will lose tuition and housing allowances for pursing education and possibly other benefits, according to the Veterans Administration.
The requests are being reviewed by the Marine Corps depending on category, either administrative, medical or religious, but could include input from medical personnel, commanding officers and chaplains. Each request is being looked at on a case-by-case basis and will involve multiple levels of input. An official at the Pentagon makes the final decision.
The process for seeking a religious exemption started with the Marine meeting with a chaplain.
The Air Force and Army are also requiring vaccines. In September, the Marine Corps announced that its troops would have 90 days to comply with the vaccine mandate, and then more recently announced the potential for discharge. The Navy has made the same announcement, the two services work closely together and follow direction from the Secretary of the Navy.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 17, 184,235 active duty and reserve Marines have been fully vaccinated and 12,572 are partially vaccinated. That works out to 91% active-duty Marines who fully vaccinated. In the Reserves, 66% are fully vaccinated, and 75% have at least one dose. There have been 28,829 COVID-19 cases across the Marine Corps.
The Navy reports 380,852 fully-vaccinated sailors and 13,126 who are at least partially vaccinated.
According to the Department of Defense, among the four service branches, the Navy has the lowest rate of non-vaccinated sailors at 1% and the Marine Corps has the highest of non-vaccinated Marines at 7%. The Army is at 6% and the Air Force at 3.6%.
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