Lawmakers are pressuring the Pentagon to provide back pay for the roughly 8,400 U.S. troops fired after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, after the department rolled back its mandate and signaled it is “exploring” how to reinstate compensation and other benefits.
President Biden signed the fiscal year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last month that included a provision, cleared by the House and the Senate, to repeal the administration’s military vaccine mandate. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed a memo that will update the records and remove letters of reprimand from troops whose exemption requests to the vaccine were denied.
Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz told Fox News Digital that on the issue of back pay for involuntarily terminated troops, “the Department is still exploring this and will provide its views on legislation of this nature at the appropriate time and through the appropriate process.”
But Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Digital that Congress is already planning to add language into the next NDAA to provide back pay for terminated troops if the Pentagon does not do so.
“If the Pentagon does not provide backpay and restore full benefits for those who were discharged and request to be reinstated, we in Congress must act by adding language in the next NDAA to do so. We have an obligation to these service members,” Waltz said.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said back pay should have been included in the FY 23 NDAA, and pledged to keep pushing the Biden administration for this result.
“This should have been done on the Senate Floor during the consideration of NDAA, but 54 of my colleagues opposed doing so. I call on DoD, Sec. Austin, and Pres. Biden to move on providing back pay at once,” he said.
A Senate aide told Fox News Digital that Marshall is evaluating possible responses to the Pentagon dragging its feet on a timeline for providing back pay.
“Senator Cruz and I have legislation to ensure our brave men and women that were fired due to Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate receive backpay and benefits,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told Fox News Digital. “At the Senate Armed Services committee I will continue pushing our military leaders to focus on threats posed by Communist China, Iran, Russia and North Korea — not woke mandates.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., led a letter to Austin last month demanding the department provide back pay for terminated service members.
“We urge you to establish a quick and thorough process so all members who were discharged because they refused the COVID-19 vaccine can be reinstated with back pay and full benefits. Doing so would provide the clarity and stability American service members and their families deserve,” Lankford and a handful of other GOP senators wrote on Dec. 16.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., did not provide comment to Fox News Digital.
Last month, Wicker called the vaccine mandate “unnecessary” and voted for its repeal. Rogers led a letter to Austin in October along with other Republicans seeking to “clarify” his position on the mandate after President Biden declared in interview that “the pandemic is over.” The letter also included a request that the Pentagon provide what consideration is being made to offer “reinstatement” to those service members who were separated because of a refusal to take the COVID vaccine.
Republicans are also pushing a handful of bills that would help service members who refused the Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate to be reinstated in the force and also be discharged honorably.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., is leading a bill that would direct the Secretary of Defense to reinstate military members who were involuntarily terminated due to their unvaccinated status.
Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., introduced a bill that would ensure service members who refused the vaccine will be honorably discharged.
“Our men and women in uniform should never have been stripped of the benefits they earned in the first place,” Fitzgerald told Fox News Digital.
“All Service members and Veterans may apply at any time to the appropriate Discharge Review Board or Board for Correction for Military/Naval Records if they believe that there is an error or injustice in their records-to include those that were separated by the vaccine mandate,” said Dietz, the DOD spokesman.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.