According to recent reports, service members who were kicked out of the U.S. military for refusing Covid-19 vaccinations may be able to rejoin the military if the vaccination mandate is lifted.
The announcement was made by two U.S. military and two senior defense officials, who stated that the decision to allow service members to rejoin would be made on a case-by-case basis. However, service members who left via “other than honorable” discharges may not be eligible to rejoin the military.
'ENORMOUS VICTORY': Sen. Ted Cruz reacts to the repeal of the military's "abusive" vaccine mandates, tells "Hannity" he'll introduce a bill to reinstate service members who were fired because of them. pic.twitter.com/0PMdk1IPL6
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The House and the Senate released language to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would require the Defense Department to lift the mandate. The NDAA language would direct Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to rescind his order, which required all active-duty National Guard and reserve service members to be vaccinated or face separation.
After Austin issued his mandate, thousands of active-duty service members were separated for refusing the Covid-19 vaccination. The official reason for separation, in many cases, was failing to follow a lawful order. However, if enlisted service members who were separated have no other bar to re-enlistment, still meet the age and fitness standards and want to rejoin, they could be allowed back in if the mandate is repealed.
Although the mandate has been controversial, it is unusual for Congress to intervene and overturn a lawful order. Two senior defense officials have noted that they could not immediately recall any precedent of Congress intervening in such a manner.
The officials also noted that enlisted service members might not be able to get back in at the same pay grades or ranks, but such decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
Pentagon leaders are concerned about how the change could affect military readiness, said two senior defense officials, both of whom are not confident the majority of troops would continue to get vaccinated without the mandate. Service members often live and work in close quarters, like ships and barracks, making infectious diseases more worrisome transmissible. The lack of a vaccination mandate would most likely affect troop deployability and readiness.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh declined on Wednesday to provide specifics about how revoking the mandate could affect troops and operations, including whether unvaccinated troops would be deemed deployable. However, it is clear that lifting the vaccine mandate could have significant implications for military readiness and troop deployability, and its effects would be closely monitored by the Defense Department.