With the U.S. military announcing plans to mandate the COVID vaccine for all personnel, many service members already enduring coercive restrictions for failing to take the “voluntary” vaccine, are concerned about their careers.
To date, 23% to 42% of military members, depending on the branch of service, have not taken the vaccine.
The deadline varies for each service, but the one for the Air Force is Nov. 2 for active duty airmen and Dec. 2 for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
In a statement earlier this month, the Air Force said that any refusal to receive the vaccine without an approved exemption or accommodation “may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ),”
Active-duty soldiers have three months to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face a possible discharge from the force, the Army announced Tuesday.
The 485,900 soldiers on active duty must be vaccinated by Dec. 15. However, the 336,500 National Guard and 189,800 Reserve troops have until June 30, 2022, to be fully inoculated.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said he’d been contacted by members of the U.S. military who said they would leave military service if forced to take COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines. Massie’s comment came after a leaked Army document said vaccines could be mandatory this September.
Massie tweeted, “I’ve been contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated. I introduced HR 3860 to prohibit any mandatory requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receive a vaccination against COVID-19. It now has 24 sponsors.”
A Pentagon-backed study that described 23 instances in which U.S. military physicians observed that patients had developed myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, within four days of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose.
The 23 cases were found among a study of 436,000 male military members who have received two doses of mRNA-based vaccine shots.
In the early 2000s, some military service members were able to leave the military without facing a dishonorable discharge or court-martial after refusing the Anthrax vaccine.
Massie linked to several articles documenting service members leaving over mandatory Anthrax vaccines, including a 2000 Chicago Tribune article on the case of U.S. Air Force Cpt. Clifton Volpe, who was allowed to resign from the service under honorable conditions after an eight-month-long legal battle in which he faced a discharge under less-than-honorable conditions.
“You raise your right hand to serve your military and then don’t realize you can be forced to take a vaccine that you may not want to take,” said Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).
Before deploying to Iraq, Congressman Steube was forced to receive the first dose of the anthrax vaccine. But he and other service members reported illnesses after the shots, and the mandate was temporarily called off.
“I had a horrible reaction to the first shot, and I don’t think that we should be forcing our military service members to take a vaccine that’s only authorized for emergency use,” said Steube.
Steube wrote to President Biden regarding his concerns some service members will leave the military or be kicked out if they refuse Covid-19 vaccination. Failure to obey an order could lead to a variety of punishments, up to dishonorable discharge and loss of benefits.
“I think this is the least of things that our military service members should be worried about,” said Steube. “They should be concerned about getting trained up and being prepared to fight out nation’s wars.”
The Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program (AVIP) was disrupted by numerous legal challenges in Doe vs. Rumsfeld (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007) for an illegally mandated drug, without full FDA approval and licensure, which was never proven to be effective to protect against inhalation anthrax as required under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) guidelines.
The Courts eventually ruled that members of the military could not be compelled to take the vaccine due to issues with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process, which was found to have violated provisions of federal law concerning the overall safety and development protocols of the vaccine; however, the court noted troops could not be compelled by the FDA and were not required to take the vaccine per court order “unless the president orders them to do so.”
During this legal battle, which lasted years, service members who declined the anthrax vaccine were reduced in rank and pay, and disciplined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice which brought criminal charges resulting in jail and dishonorable discharges for declining a vaccine with serious long-term side effects. Others were forced into early retirement, and lost veteran benefits.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) denied a readiness problem or a vaccine safety problem, but Congressional oversight revealed the experimental anthrax vaccine mandate in 2001 provoked a pilot retention crisis.
This, and the anthrax vaccine side effects experienced by military personnel, was summarized in a report issued by the Government Accounting Office (GAO).
According to the GAO report:
“According to our survey, between September 1998 and September 2000, when AVIP was mandatory, about 16 percent of the guard and reserve pilots and aircrew members had transferred to another unit (primarily to non-flying positions), moved to inactive status, or left the military altogether. In addition, 18 percent of those still participating in units indicated their intention to transfer, move, or leave in the near future. About one-fifth of those who had already left did so knowingly before qualifying for military retirement.’”
The pending loss of pilots was undeniable. According to the report, 69 percent of those pilots who changed their status ranked the anthrax vaccine as the main factor, and 72 percent of those pilots who planned to leave the military ranked the anthrax vaccine as the main factor.
More than half of the losses and potential future losses of aircrew members in the guard and reserve were pilots. These personnel losses included more experienced positions of flight evaluator, flight instructor and aircraft commander, in whom the military had invested years of training.
Officers who wish to resign under normal conditions must meet with their immediate commander or supervisor, who then must help them schedule their separation while “considering their preference and the interests of the Air Force,” according to Air Force regulations.
The commander or supervisor also must sign the separation application and the applicant must be close to fulfilling whatever service commitment is left in their contract. .
As of Tuesday, the Army claims about 80% of active-duty soldiers had received at least one vaccine dose.
The National Guard and Reserve don’t have accurate numbers for how many of their forces are vaccinated, given many of those troops receive vaccines outside of the military.
The military’s largest branch issued its mandate after the other services announced similar timelines.
If troops received one of the two-shot varieties of the vaccine they will need to have had their second shot and passed the two-week post vaccine waiting period before the December deadline.
“Soldiers who refuse vaccinations will be counseled by their chain of command,” reported Military.com. “Such counseling typically involves starting a paper trail and having a discussion with the service member about the orders they are violating; it isn’t always followed by a punishment.”
But continued failure to comply with the order “could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment — to include relief of duties or discharge,” according to a statement from the Army.
Commanders will request a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, which are largely seen as career killers, to be initiated for any soldier who refuses inoculation without an exemption.
A discharge can cost a soldier their benefits, including the GI Bill.
Those seeking waivers to avoid immunization essentially have two options: medical or religious exemptions, according to Sean Timmons, an attorney with the Houston-based law firm Tully Rinckey.
The military is a relatively young, healthy community whose members already have received numerous vaccines, so most people are “not going to have the ability to be granted a medical waiver,” Timmons said.
A religious exemption may be more likely, he said, if the person can demonstrate that their religious practice compels them to be morally opposed to vaccination.
Joe Seiner, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said soldiers will need to demonstrate that the vaccine conflicts with a sincere religious belief or have received prior waivers.
“You’d probably want to show them that you haven’t gotten certain vaccinations or, if you are new to the service, that this would be consistent with your prior history,” Seiner said.
Still, if a religious exemption request is denied by the military, the rejection may provide a basis for a lawsuit, Timmons said.
“It’s possible for attorneys to work with an admission to say there’s a good faith objection,” he explained.
Many law firms have been approached by service members expressing interest in filing lawsuits against the mandate.
Seiner said he expects lawsuits to be filed but warned troops who are hesitant about the vaccine not to expect any immediate injunctions or temporary rulings to halt the program.
“There’s no guarantee a judge will do that,” he said. “For a judge to actually issue that order, it has to be a lawsuit that is likely to succeed, at least in the federal judge’s mind.”