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Navy begins kicking out unvaccinated sailors

A U.S. Navy Sailor receives the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Luke Cunningham)
December 16, 2021

The U.S. Navy issued guidance on Wednesday for commanders to proceed with separating unvaccinated sailors from the service after the service passed its COVID-19 vaccine deadline. That guidance included instructions for which sailors will receive Honorable Discharges and which soldiers will receive less-preferable General Discharges under Honorable conditions.

In a memo to commanders, Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the chief of naval personnel, said, “Since we are now past the last date that any Navy service
member may receive the vaccine and meet the deadlines specified in reference, this NAVADMIN provides execution guidance regarding separation of Navy service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.”

In his guidance, Nowell said all sailors whose contracts are up or who are eligible for separation or retirement by June 1, 2022 will receive an Honorable Discharge.

Those sailors not eligible for separation or retirement by June 1, 2022 will be evaluated by their amount of time served. Those who have served less than six years, who are not entitled to administrative separation boards or boards of inquiry, will automatically receive an Honorable Discharge. Those with more than six years of service in the Navy will be given a less-favorable General Discharge under Honorable conditions, but can receive an Honorable Discharge if they choose to waive their right to the administrative separation boards or boards of inquiry for which they are entitled.

A full Honorable Discharge is preferable to a General Discharge under Honorable conditions. Any discharge status other than an Honorable Discharge can result in a loss of veteran benefits.

Republican lawmakers have supported adding language to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2022 that would protect service members being separated for being unvaccinated from receiving the discharge characterizations below General under Honorable conditions.

The Navy is still processing requests for exemption from the vaccination policy, on both medical and religious grounds. Politico reported the Navy is still processing about 2,700 religious exemption requests alone. Neither the Navy nor any of the other military services have approved a single exemption to the vaccine mandate on religious grounds.

The Navy previously announced that any service member who has their exemption request denied has five days to begin the vaccination process before the service will begin pursuing separation actions.

In a press release shared with the public on Wednesday, the Navy said service members who are currently unvaccinated and who are still refusing the shots can still change their minds and “have a path to stay Navy, even if they cannot meet the Navy’s stated vaccination deadlines.”