Troops who refuse the coronavirus vaccine will see no additional protections or leniency in the way their layoffs are handled, Defense and Veterans Affairs officials confirmed Wednesday.
Instead, decisions on whether or not to grant these people anything other than honorable discharge — potentially blocking them from a host of veterans’ benefits — will be left to local commanders, and their cases will receive no assessment. preferential for eligibility for veterans benefits, despite recent lobbying by Republican lawmakers for a less punitive approach.
“We view the vaccine as a preparedness issue,” Gil Cisneros, the Defense Department’s undersecretary of personnel, said in testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “Any discharge decision is up to the individual service as to how they proceed.”
Earlier Wednesday, Air Force and Space Force officials announced that about 8,500 Airmen had missed the Nov. 2 deadline to get their coronavirus shots. This represents about 3% of the total staff of the services.
Other military services have similar deadlines in the coming weeks.
Cisneros acknowledged the concerns of a small portion of the active-duty force over vaccines, but said officials were confident the warrant was necessary. As such, the department does not plan to set up special programs or exemptions for people dismissed for refusing injections.
VA Assistant Secretary Donald Remy said these cases will be evaluated by the department’s benefits managers to weigh “mitigating or mitigating circumstances, performance and accomplishments during their service, the nature of the offense and the character of their service at the time of their release”.
This is standard operation for all veterans, and the department does not plan to handle vaccine denials separately or differently.
People with honorable leaves will be eligible for things like GI Bill benefits, VA home loans, and transition assistance programs. Individuals on non-honorable discharges still receive VA-guaranteed mental health care services, but may be locked out of most other benefits.
In September, House lawmakers approved language in their annual defense authorization bill that would prevent military officials from issuing dishonorable discharges to troops who refuse vaccines, arguing it was a punishment too severe for the offence.
However, the measure still needs to survive negotiations with Senate lawmakers before becoming law, likely in late December.
Conservative lawmakers have speculated that thousands of troops could be thrown out of the ranks by then.
At least 71 service members have died from complications related to the coronavirus since the pandemic began 20 months ago. None of the dead soldiers were fully vaccinated.
Among Veterans Affairs patients, at least 16,157 have died of complications from the virus since March 2020.