In a Dec. 6, 2022 proposed compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2023 , the U.S. House of Representatives authorized $857.9 billion in spending for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and included a provision repealing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all military personnel instituted by the Biden administration last year. The repeal would take effect 30 days after the DoD funding authorization bill becomes law. To become law, the bill still needs to be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Biden.1 2 3 4 5
Congress May Seek Help for Terminated U.S. Military Personnel
“I’m very grateful that we were able to build bipartisan, bicameral support and get this into the body of the bill,” said U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. “Getting this issue off the table and bringing some common sense to bear around the vaccine mandate was a very important thing to do.”2
Additional congressional action, including reinstatement and providing back pay, is expected next year to assist U.S. military personnel, who were terminated for not complying with the federal government’s forced vaccination policy.2
Sen. Blackburn added:
There are many that have been removed. And some of those had already had COVID. Some of those had medical exemptions that were denied. And we are continuing to work through this issue, and to be certain that people are made whole will be important. But right now it is getting this lifted, and once we have done that, we will be able to move forward.2
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said, “These heroes deserve justice now that the mandate is no more. The Biden administration must correct service records and not stand in the way of re-enlisting any service member discharged simply for not taking the COVID vaccine. Make no mistake: this is a win for our military. But in 28 days the real work begins. The new House Republican majority will work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist the men and women in uniform who were unfairly targeted by this administration.”2
Federal Vaccine Mandate Has Hurt Military Recruitment
Among the principal concerns of members of Congress who have opposed the vaccine mandate for the military is that it has hurt recruiting efforts by the Pentagon. This was recently confirmed by Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger. “Where it is having an impact for sure is on recruiting,” said Gen. Berger, who admitted that the mandate was a “nonstarter” for many who are interested in enlisting in the military.6
“Small areas, big factor,” Gen. Berger said. “You talk to me in the cafeteria, and one of my first questions is, ‘Do I have to get that vaccine?’ And you go, ‘Yeah, you do.’ Ok, I’ll talk to you later. It’s that fast.”6
All branches of the military have been negatively affected by the COVID vaccine mandate, particularly the U.S. Army, which fell 25 percent (more than 10,000 soldiers) short of its recruiting target in FY2022. According to data released on Dec. 2, the Army has discharged 1,841 active-duty soldiers for refusing to get a COVID shot. While the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have either stopped discharging personnel or been barred from continuing to do so by the courts, as of this past summer these branches had expelled 800 airmen, 1,000 sailors, and 2,000 Marines for opting to exercise their informed consent rights and not get vaccinated for COVID.6 7 8
“By the end of 2022, the active U.S. military will be at its smallest size since the creation of the all volunteer force,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “There is no sunlight on the horizon,” said Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. “It’s becoming clear the all-volunteer force that has served our country well over the last 50 years is at an inflection point.”9 10
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1 Klein B. White House calls removing Covid-19 vaccine mandate a ‘mistake’ but won’t say if Biden will sign NDAA. CNN Dec. 7, 2022.
2 Laco K. Republicans cheer military vaccine mandate rollback, but stress service members must be ‘made whole’ again. Fox News Dec. 7, 2022.
3 O’Brien C. Defense bill rolls back Pentagon’s Covid vaccine mandate. Politico Dec. 6 2022.
4 Hobley N. Naval Commander Warns that Military Vaccine Mandate Poses Threat to National Security. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 29, 2021.
5 Edmondson C. House Passes $858 Billion Defense Bill Repealing Vaccine Mandate for Troops. The New York Times Dec. 9, 2022.
6 Lee M. Top Marine general says COVID vaccine mandate is hurting military recruiting efforts. Fox News Dec. 5, 2022.
7 Beynon S. The Army Keeps Booting COVID Vaccine Refusers as Shot Requirement May Be Dropped. Military.com Dec. 6, 2022.
8 Weekly Report. Military Loses Thousands Of Service Members Over Vaccine Mandate. U.S. Senator Roger Wicker July 25, 2022.
9 Schanz J. Military recruitment down as fewer young Americans enlist, are qualified to serve. WXYZ Detroit Nov. 11, 2022.
10 Tiron R. US Military Faces Biggest Recruiting Hurdles in 50 Years (1). Bloomberg Government Sept. 21, 2022.