Last branch of U.S. military initiates involuntary discharge of solders who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
The United States Army announced on February 2 that it would immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Under a directive issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, commanders were to initiate involuntary administrative separation proceedings against any Soldier who had refused the COVID-19 vaccination order, or did not have an approved or pending exemption request. The order applied to regular Army Soldiers, reserve-component Soldiers serving on Title 10 active-duty, and cadets.
“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”
Army Directive 2022-02 detailed how Army commanders were to proceed with separation proceedings and required them to process those separation actions as expeditiously as possible. Service members separated due to refusal of the COVID-19 vaccination order would not be eligible for involuntary separation pay and could be subject to recoupment of any unearned special or incentive pays.
As an exception, Soldiers who will complete their separation or retirement, or begin transition leave, on or before July 1, 2022, will be granted a temporary exemption and will be permitted to complete their separations or retirements.
The least favorable characterization of service that may be issued is General (Under Honorable Conditions), unless additional misconduct warrants separation with an Other than Honorable characterization of service.
Unvaccinated Soldiers who have requested medical exemption or religious accommodations were temporarily exempt from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement while their requests are under review.
Soldiers who received denials of their medical exemption or religious accommodation requests had seven calendar days from the denial to do one of the following or face separation proceedings:
-Begin a COVID-19 vaccination regimen. If a Soldier indicates intent to begin the vaccination regimen, commanders may use their discretion to adjust the timeline based on local COVID-19 vaccination supplies.
-Submit an appeal to the final appeal authority. If a final appeal is denied, the Soldier will have seven calendar days from notice of denial to begin the COVID-19 vaccination regimen.
Commanders worked to ensure all unvaccinated service members complied with COVID-19 screening and testing requirements and applicable safety standards. Army leaders said that they would continue to counsel all unvaccinated individuals on the health benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Army has not yet involuntarily separated any Soldiers solely for refusing the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of January 26, Army commanders have relieved a total of six regular Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 3,073 general officer written reprimands to Soldiers for refusing the vaccination order.