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Navy starts kicking out unvaccinated; sailors denied exemptions have 5 days to start shots

A U.S. Navy Sailor receives the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Luke Cunningham)
November 17, 2021

The U.S. Navy has begun the process of separating sailors who missed the Sunday, November 14 deadline to get their second COVID-19 vaccine shot. The Navy also announced service members who have applied for but are denied vaccine exemptions will have just five days to begin the vaccination process before the Navy begins the separation process.

On Monday, the service issued a naval administrative (NAVADMIN) message reiterating that active-duty sailors have until November 28 to meet the vaccination requirement. In order to meet that deadline, sailors had to get their second shot by Sunday to leave enough time for the two-week period before they’re considered fully vaccinated. Reserve sailors have until December 28 to be fully vaccinated.

The Monday NAVADMIN message states, “In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, U.S. Navy policy is to process for separation all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and do not have an approved exemption.”

The NAVADMIN does acknowledge some vaccine exemption requests, for both religious and medical reasons, are still pending. The NAVADMIN states that if an exemption is granted, sailors “shall not be processed for separation,” however, sailors who are denied their exemption must begin the vaccine process within five days of being notified their exemption request was denied.

“Navy service members whose COVID-19 vaccination exemption request is denied are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as directed by the exemption adjudicating authority or commence vaccination within 5 days of being notified of the denial, if the exemption adjudicating authority does not specify,” the NAVADMIN states. “Navy service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine after expiration of the specified time to commence vaccination, will be processed for separation.”

It is unclear how many pending vaccine exemptions are still awaiting the Navy’s consideration. According to USNI News, the Navy has granted six permanent medical exemptions so far. The Navy has not granted a single religious exemption to a vaccine in the past seven years.

CNN reported some 1,750 sailors remain unvaccinated out of a force of nearly 350,000 members.

The Monday NAVADMIN also reiterated its previous statement that the least favorable discharge characterization that sailors separated for refusing the vaccine can receive is a general discharge under honorable conditions. Such a discharge is a step down from an honorable discharge, but not the most negative discharge characterization.

Service members separated with an honorable discharge status are eligible for the full range of veterans benefits, but those who are separated with a general discharge under honorable conditions lose some benefits, such as the GI bill, which provides post-service education and job training support.

While sailors may receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions for refusing the vaccine, the service said it will make sailors repay bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the costs for their training and education.

“In cases where there is a clearly defined service obligation that is not met, the cost of Navy training will be recouped, prorated to the obligated time served,” the NAVADMIN states. “Additionally, each case of a Navy service member refusing the vaccine will be evaluated for recoupment of training costs based on individual circumstances such as total cost, service obligation, and the Navy’s realized return on investment for training received.”