New Defense Bill Orders Pentagon to Consider Reinstating Troops Fired for COVID-19 Vaccine Refusal

Military kicked out thousands of troops for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
New Defense Bill Orders Pentagon to Consider Reinstating Troops Fired for COVID-19 Vaccine Refusal
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Oct. 12, 2023. (Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

A new defense bill, unveiled on Dec. 7, directs U.S. military officials to consider reinstating troops who were removed from the military for refusing to comply with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“At the request of a covered individual during the two years following the date of the involuntary separation of the covered individual, the secretary concerned shall consider reinstating such covered individual,” the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) states.

“Covered individuals” include former members who were “involuntarily separated from an armed force solely on the basis of the refusal of such individual to receive a vaccination against COVID-19,” according to the bill. The former members must also have requested some kind of exemption, whether of a religious, administrative, or medical nature. The latter portion was added during negotiations involving Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Mr. Rogers is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Reed is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Smith and Mr. Wicker are the top members of the minority parties on each panel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in August 2021 imposed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, alleging that it would improve military readiness. Secretaries of branches promulgated the order.

Although the vast majority of troops received a shot, thousands didn’t and were eventually kicked out.

That includes 1,903 soldiers in the Army, who were told recently they could apply to rejoin if they wanted.

The mandate was rescinded this year because of a bill that was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

The lengthy fiscal 2024 NDAA states that those who are approved for reinstatement will immediately return to the grade held before they were separated.

Several other parts of the bill also pertain to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The legislation would establish a board to review the discharges of members removed for failure to comply with the mandate, if the members ask for such a review.

It would direct Mr. Austin to work with secretaries of the military departments and the head of the Coast Guard to communicate with former members who were separated for refusing a COVID-19 shot and who asked for an exemption. The communication must happen within six months of the enactment of the legislation, if signed into law.

The bill would also force Mr. Austin to conduct a study evaluating health conditions that appeared among members who received a COVID-19 vaccine. The military would have to list the adverse events as well as the prevalence of each event in the population in several prepandemic years.

The legislation also includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for members, $170 billion for vehicles and weapons, and $145 billion for research and development. It includes $300 million in aid for Ukraine, even though many lawmakers have soured on further funding for the country, and a prohibition on requiring masks on military installations in the United States.

Changes from an earlier version include the removal of provisions relating to social issues, such as a provision that would have prevented the military’s health care system from covering procedures undergone by people who identify as another gender.

Mr. Rogers, Mr. Smith, Mr. Reed, and Mr. Wicker urged Congress to quickly pass the roughly $900 billion act, which provides funding for the military for a year.

“Our nation faces unprecedented threats from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. It is vital that we act now to protect our national security,” they said in a joint statement.

“We urge Congress to pass the NDAA quickly and President Biden to sign it when it reaches his desk.”

Mr. Reed said the legislation “will make U.S. safer and stronger, providing our troops and military families with historic level of support and making key investments in shoring up industrial base and bolstering vital alliances and partnerships in response to national security challenges we face.”

The Pentagon wouldn’t comment on the bill.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on proposed legislation,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was among the critics of the bill, in part because of how it was updated to exclude provisions limiting the Pentagon’s funding of transgender surgeries and trips to secure abortions.

“This was a total sell-out of conservative principles and a huge win for Democrats,” she said. “Congratulations to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, you should all be excited to vote for this!”