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Army starts kicking out soldiers refusing COVID vaccine

U.S. Army Soldiers draw and prepare vaccines at the Atlanta Community Vaccination Center in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, March 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Robert P Wormley III)
February 02, 2022

The U.S. Army announced Wednesday it will move forward with separating soldiers who have continued to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the military-wide mandate.

“The United States Army announced today that it will immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the service said in an emailed statement provided to American Military News.

The service is starting its separation actions more than a month and a half after its Dec. 15, 2021 vaccination deadline passed.

The Army is now proceeding with separations under a directive issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. The directive states commanders will immediately start separating soldiers who have thus-far refused the vaccine and who don’t have a pending or approved exemption request.

The order says that commanders “will process these separation actions, from initiation to a Soldier’s potential discharge, as expeditiously as possible.”

Wormuth said, “Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars. Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”

Service members separated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay and may have to repay any unearned special or incentive pays.

Enlisted soldiers will be separated on the basis of a “Commission of
a Serious Offense.” Commissioned and Warrant Officers will be separated on the basis of “Misconduct, Moral or Professional Dereliction.” Officers refusing the COVID-19 vaccine may also submit their unqualified resignation (UQR) within 30 days of the directive, and if their UQR is approved, they can avoid involuntary separation.

The order states all soldiers refusing to be vaccinated will be issued either an Honorable or General (under honorable conditions) characterization of service unless additional misconduct warrants separation with an
“Other than Honorable” characterization.

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

The order does lay out an exception for soldiers scheduled to separate or retire from the military by July 1, or begin their transition leave by July 1. All officer and enlisted personnel eligible to retire on or before 1 July 2022 will be permitted to retire “as soon as practicable through expedited processes in lieu of involuntary separation.”

Requests for retirement must be submitted within 30 days of Wednesday’s directive.

Soldiers with a pending vaccine exemption request and eligible to retire by July 1 will get the later of 14 days from the final decision or 30 days from Wednesday’s directive to submit a request for retirement if their exemption request is rejected.

As of last week, the Army had received 709 requests for permanent medical exemptions to the vaccine, of which it approved six and rejected 656. The Army had received another 2,910 permanent religious exemption requests of which it has approved none and rejected 266. The Army has also granted 5,870 temporary vaccine exemptions, including for pending permanent exemption requests.

The Army is the last U.S. military branch to begin separating troops for vaccine refusals. Until now, the Army has only relieved six commanders of their leadership roles and issued official reprimands to 3,073 soldiers.

The U.S. Marine Corps has separated the most service members of any U.S. military branch so far. As of last week, it had separated 399 Marines.

The U.S. Air Force has separated the second most service members to date, 111.

The U.S. Navy has separated another 45 service members.