Senate Republicans blast Biden over dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops

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Senate Republicans on Thursday blasted President Biden’s plan to dishonorably discharge active-duty military personnel who refuse to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The White House has remained firm on its vaccine requirement for service members and has doubled down on the possibility that troops could be separated under the worst of terms.

“Next Thursday … is Veteran’s Day, a day that we stop, that this nation pauses, to honor our veterans,” Sen. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republican said. “Our president instead is choosing to dishonor our military active duty officers by forcing them to be separated from the military and then pushing upon them a dishonorable discharge.”

The remarks come after more than 8,000 active-duty members of the Air Force and Space Force missed the services’ vaccine deadline on Tuesday. 

Service members could face “administrative or non-judicial punishment [under UCMJ] — to include relief of duties or discharge” for refusing the vaccine per Pentagon guidance issued in August.

In September Mr. Marshall introduced legislation aimed at barring the Pentagon from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for refusing the vaccine. Ten Republicans have joined Mr. Marshall in sponsoring the bill.

But President Biden has stood by the guidance under which troops could face severe penalties.

“To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures,” the White House said in a statement.

“President Biden wants to turn heroes into felons,” Mr. Marshall said Thursday in a press conference. “That’s what his policy is doing… Think about the consequences of a dishonorable discharge… You would lose your access to the G.I. bill for more education, you would lose access to VA home loans, your VA medical benefits, Military funeral honors… This is a big issue. It’s going to make our nation less secure.”

Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Rick Scott of Florida, and Roger F. Wicker of Mississippi joined Mr. Marshall in Thursday’s press conference.

The lawmakers were also joined by First Liberty Institute general counsel Mike Berry who is representing close to 40 Navy SEALs who are seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate. 

“This is a time in our nation’s history when we face very real threats, Mr. Berry said. “Threats from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and we should expect that every one of our able-bodied Navy SEALs and other service members, we want them defending this nation, fighting for our freedom. And instead, they’re fighting for their livelihoods and their careers. That’s un-American and that’s wrong.”

The majority of those who missed this week’s Air Force deadline — nearly 5,000 troops — had applied for religious exemptions that have not been yet been approved by the service. The service has approved more than 1,600 exemptions on medical or administrative grounds.

The Air Force has separated 40 junior recruits and trainees under less severe, entry-level discharges, but will likely take weeks in determining the way forward for more senior personnel who have refused to get vaccinated. 

The Pentagon earlier this week called on unit commanders to practice “compassion and understanding” when addressing service members who decline the vaccine.

Active duty members of the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines face deadlines later this month, followed by Army soldiers in December.

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