After persistent efforts by predominantly Republican lawmakers to see COVID-19 vaccine mandates within the military repealed, President Joe Biden signed a defense spending bill last month that did just that.
Although the mandate had already forced thousands of service members to either receive a vaccine that they did not want or face a military discharge, many on the right saw the latest move as a belated step in the right direction.
The U.S. Army, however, was apparently undeterred by the recent order, which was subsequently bolstered by a Department of Defense statement officially rescinding the mandate.
In a document released earlier this month, the Army provided guidance for “members of the National Guard and Ready Reserve” indicating that they will be expected to adhere to a pre-existing memo “unless and until” it is explicitly overruled by the Defense Department.
According to reports, the memo in question was issued by the agency in November 2021 and required National Guard members to receive the vaccine. Stopping short of threatening to kick unvaccinated soldiers out of the branch, the Army guidance asserts: “Commands will immediately suspend processing and initiating involuntary enlisted separation and officer elimination actions that are based solely on a soldier’s refusal to comply with the DOD COVID-19 vaccination order.”
That caveat was not enough to satisfy critics of the guidance, including House Armed Services Committee member Austin Scott (R-GA).
The lawmaker offered his reaction to the news on Friday, asserting that the Defense Department’s “continued politicization of the COVID vaccine and their disregard for the law will have consequences,” adding: “I look forward to working with my colleagues to fix this issue for our reservists and National Guard personnel.”
An attorney who has spent much of the past two years defending service members against retaliation from the military over their objection to the vaccine was similarly perturbed by the Army’s “decision to interpret the [National Defense Authorization Act] language as not applying to the Guard and Reserve.”
R. David Younts described that interpretation as “deeply troubling” evidence that the Defense Department “will continue coercive efforts to vaccinate or separate military members” unless Congress acts to prevent them from doing so.