Two Republican senators vowed late Wednesday to try again to bar the Department of Defense (DOD) from dishonorably discharging members of the U.S. military who decline to be vaccinated against the CCP virus, also known as novel coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19.
“I just hope the people here realize what a dishonorable discharge really means,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told more than 2,000 conservative and evangelical family advocates at the Family Research Council’s (FRC) “Pray Vote Stand Summit” conference in Leesburg, Virginia.
“You’re never going to be able to get a job again. You’re going to lose your Second Amendment [rights]. They’re going to take away your VA health-care benefits and your education. It’s a big deal is what I’m trying to say,” Marshall explained in response to a question from the moderator, FRC President Tony Perkins.
Marshall was referring to a September 21 position statement issued by the White House saying the Biden administration “strongly opposes” congressional efforts to bar dishonorable discharges when service members decline to be vaccinated.
“You’re treated worse than a convicted felon,” added Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who joined Marshall in the discussion with Perkins.
The U.S. military includes approximately 1.3 million active-duty members, as well as an estimated 800,000 reservists subject to immediate call-up. More than 700,000 Americans have died as a result of the CCP Virus, with slightly more of the fatalities coming in 2021 than in 2020.
Marshall noted that votes will be taken later in October in the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and he plans to introduce an amendment removing the dishonorable discharge option from the available disciplinary measures military leaders can impose on unvaccinated subordinates.
“The National Defense Authorization Act will be coming up for a vote probably the end of this month, and we’ll be offering an amendment just like we did on the continuing resolution to stop that nonsense. And we’ll need to activate your folks to help us out,” Marshall said.
The FRC summit attendees come from across the country and are concerned citizens who tend to be actively involved in public policy discussions and advocacy at all levels of government.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued an Aug. 24 order requiring all service members to be vaccinated, using the vaccine developed by Pfizer. Austin said President Joe Biden supported the decision, but it has been unclear whether service members would face a dishonorable discharge as a potential penalty.
Austin was asked by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) during a Sept. 28 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing if he supports dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated service members.
“Taking a vaccine is a requirement. I’ll just leave it at that,” Austin replied.
Major Cesar Santiago, a DOD spokesman, told The Epoch Times Thursday that “service members cannot be unilaterally dishonorably discharged for declining the vaccination.”
Santiago explained that “a commander would have to court-martial a service member for a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice—in this case, failure to follow a lawful order, Article 92 of the Uniform Code—and then a court-martial would have to find the service member guilty and, in the sentencing phase of the trial, assign a dishonorable discharge.”
Nearly 96 percent of all active duty personnel have received at least one dose of the vaccination, and more than 79 percent have received both shots, he said.
Lankford said he is hearing from service members that military commanders in each of the five branches are often taking differing approaches on the vaccine issue.
“This is an issue all of us have been engaged in. So, as crazy as this sounds, the Air Force is handling this differently than the Army is handling it than the Navy is handling it. They don’t even have consistent policy agency to agency and even within the Pentagon.
“So when I talk to the Army, they’ve set their policies—and I’ve talked to the chaplains there, I’ve talked to the surgeon general there, the leadership for manpower—they’ll say, there’s no way we’re going to do a less than honorable discharge. We’re not going to do that. We’re just going to say you can’t get promoted anymore. You’re stuck at that level.
“The Navy and the Air Force will say, well, we wouldn’t give a dishonorable discharge, but we’d give a less than honorable discharge as a possibility. Basically, you’re kicked out and you lose some of your benefits.”
Marshal and Lankford were joined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tuberville at the end of September in a failed effort to amend a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open.
On the House side, Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) authored an amendment in the House Armed Services Committee that had support from both sides of the aisle, but the proposal was not adopted.
The issue continues to boil in Congress, however, because of recurring reports of service members being threatened with dishonorable discharges. Two service members have filed a federal lawsuit naming Austin, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra, and FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock.
The service members argue that the Pfizer vaccine being required by the Austin order is based on an FDA authorization for its use on an experimental basis. Federal law requires that individuals cannot be required to undergo treatment with an experimental drug. Days after they filed their suit, the FDA gave full approval to the vaccine.