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Sen. Lee wants safeguard against military discharge for refusing vaccine

Oct 22, 2021, 5:14 AM | Updated: 10:46 am
military discharge vaccine utah congressional delegation opposes covid relief bill...
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, spoke against the COVID-19 relief bill on the Senate floor, Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2021. Photo: KSL NewsRadio via YouTube

WASHINGTON — Utah’s senior senator wants to allow members of the military who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine a way to stay in service, even though no branch has said that would happen yet.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) took to the Senate floor on Wednesday, Oct. 20, to talk about his Respecting Service Members Act.

If passed, S. 2842 would prohibit the Department of Defense from discharging military personnel if they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine as mandated by President Joe Biden.

“The service members were rightly praised for serving during a pandemic and through dangerous missions.  But, now they’re being forced out,” Lee said.

However, it is not clear, reports Military.com, whether service members would be forced to retire if they refuse to become vaccinated against COVID-19. (Military.com describes themselves as “a news and resource website for military members, veterans, and their families.”)

Other Republicans share Lee’s concern about vaccine for military

Lee’s concern mirrors those shared by other Republican lawmakers. This week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claiming the President’s vaccine mandate was “haphazardly implemented and politically motivated.”

In September, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) co-sponsored legislation banning the dishonorable discharge of troops that choose not to be vaccinated.

Different branches have different vaccination deadlines

On Aug. 25, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed U.S. military departments to begin administering the vaccine to military members who fall under the authority of the Department of Defense. They include active-duty members of the military, the Ready Reserve, and members of the National Guard.

But different branches of the military do not share similar deadlines for inoculation against COVID-19 (as each military branch was given autonomy when deciding a deadline for inoculation, as reported by US News and World Report).

Military.com reports that active-duty Army soldiers have until Dec. 15, while Air Force and Space Force troops have until Nov. 2nd. Marines and sailors have a deadline of Nov. 28. Soldiers in the National Guard and Ready Reserve don’t need to be fully vaccinated until June 30, 2022.

Other vaccinations required for US military servicemembers

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, because members of the military are more likely to live in close quarters, or to consume contaminated food or water, or be bitten by an infected mosquito, they receive vaccines when they begin basic training and again before deploying. 

A member of the military is required to be up-to-date on the same vaccinations as others in their age group and may require additional vaccinations depending upon the area of the world to which they are deployed or are serving.  

Lee’s bill does not appear to give protections from possible discharge if military personnel were to refuse any other vaccine currently required for military members. There are a total of 17 vaccines that can be required depending on where members are serving.  A vaccination for COVID-19 is the 18th inoculation on that list.

Military members may apply for exemptions

Members of the military can apply for both medical and religious exemptions for any vaccine, including COVID-19 according to the US Army Public Affairs office. The rules are outlined in Army Regulation 600-20 and AR 40-562, as well as the new Army Directive 2021-33 that provides supplementary guidance on exemption requests.

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Sen. Lee wants safeguard against military discharge for refusing vaccine