Current and former US service members tell DailyMail.com that Republican-proposed amendments in next year’s defense spending bill may not be comprehensive enough to undo the “severe harassment” they suffered for the strict COVID-19 vaccine mandate of the Biden administration.
More than 8,000 service members, many of whom were seeking religious exemptions, were fired for refusing to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate signed into law in August 2021. Following the outrage, the National Defense Authorization Act The Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 NDAA ended the mandate, but did not reinstate servicemen who were fired for not receiving the vaccine or provide any other compensation.
Now, new amendments by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., approved by the House Armed Services Committee last week, would “offer redress” to service members who were “wrongfully discharged” by requiring the Pentagon to establish a reinstatement process and ensure there is no negative retaliation.
However, current and former troops say the amendments that would go into the FY 2024 NDAA are not strong enough to undo the “severe harassment” they endured over the past two years.
The Pentagon, with the support of military leaders and US President Joe Biden, has ordered COVID-19 vaccinations for all military service members.
“I’m happy Congress is pushing to reinstate service members to the force, however it’s not enough,” said John Frankman, a US Army Captain, who will be formally discharged from the military on 1 of July.
Frankman, who served in the Special Forces as part of the Green Berets, said the “lost career opportunities” he endured in the last two years could never be undone by any action by Congress.
He said that even before the term, 10 of the 12 on his team opted out of the vaccine when he was serving as a Special Forces Detachment Commander and had key training taken away.
When the vaccination mandate went into effect in August 2021, he submitted a religious accommodation request, but the Army did not respond for more than a year.
During that time, he and other unvaccinated special forces were unable to deploy, go on a temporary duty assignment (TDY), or a permanent change of station (PCS).
“Because of this, my team time was reduced and I was not able to attend any school to further my career,” he detailed to DailyMail.com. He called his “biggest setback” not being able to go to graduate school.
“Even when the mandate was terminated, I called the USMA and the Human Resources Command, but I was unable to make up for these losses,” he continued.
‘These measures are good, but not enough. They only cover those who were kicked out, but don’t discuss the difficulties faced by those who never left but were intentionally kept in limbo,” Frankman told DailyMail.com.
“The amendments will not make up for the lost career opportunities” many troops endured, including the inability to deploy or receive the training necessary to rise through the military ranks.
“Nor will they make up for the negative stigma that many in the military, especially its leaders, may have for not complying with a rule that they pushed so vehemently for,” he continued.
“It’s also not a strong enough incentive to bring people back after being separated. Many have faced serious harassment.’
Another sacked service member told DailyMail.com that “accountability is necessary to restore trust.”
“Until confidence is restored, military readiness will continue to bleed and decline,” he continued.
Additionally, service members have told DailyMail.com that the military is making it extremely difficult for laid-off troops to reapply through the normal process to regain their previous positions due to a two-year delay in changing their discharge status. down from ‘general’. ‘ to ‘honourable’ to start the process.
The banks’ office says its amendments require the secretary of defense to prioritize requests from vaccine refusers to change their discharge statuses, so the waiting period is significantly reduced.
Active duty Coast Guard Lt. Chad Coppin, who is currently stationed in Juneau, Alaska, said he is especially concerned about the fate of the USCG.
‘Unfortunate that USCG, Title 14 is not considered a ‘covered armed force’ as we should be. Rep. Banks should know that the USCG must be absolutely covered in these efforts. We were aggrieved as was the Department of Defense services, leaving the USCG out of this would be a slap in the face for all of us.
Coppin was nearly kicked out of the military, but after the NDAA was signed, he was able to remain on active duty.
Banks, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, hailed the passage of the series of amendments last week that will provide “reparations” for those “unfairly discharged.”
A spokesperson for Banks’ office said the USCG will be included in the final version of the bill via a floor amendment after it is approved by the House Rules Committee.
Because the Transportation and Infrastructure and Homeland Security Committees have jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, which is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon, the Armed Services Committee would have needed to obtain waivers to include the branch during the review process. marked.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed into law a comprehensive COVID vaccination mandate in August 2021
Staff Sergeant Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
Another former Coast Guardsman, Christopher Collins, who served for 11.5 years before also being discharged last November, told DailyMail.com the amendments are a “minimal”.
“Ignoring the fact that the USCG isn’t even covered by this and by all accounts took the most abuse during the COVID ordeal, it does nothing to require the necessary structural change to prevent this from happening again. Collins said.
“I was personally given a 30-day notice of my discharge, my leave days were stolen, I was not given the opportunity to do any transition training, and I was discharged while still on parental leave, with outstanding medical issues that have made that finding a job is almost impossible.
The First Liberty Institute, which represents a group of Navy SEALs on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the only case still alive in litigation since the 2023 NDAA was signed into law, says congressional efforts to remedy the problems caused by the Biden administration is critical.
First Liberty Senior Advisor and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry told DailyMail.com that the NDAA amendments are “necessary steps on the road to recovery”.
‘We thank Congressman Banks for his continued leadership on this issue. The DOD’s Covid vaccine mandate created a harmful culture of religious hostility and left deep scars that will take years to heal,” Berry said.
‘These NDAA amendments are necessary steps on the road to recovery. Hopefully, the Pentagon learns that it is far more important that our military faithfully follow the Constitution than it is to blindly follow dubious orders.’
President Biden and Sec. Lloyd Astin shake hands at the White House
A current active duty military officer told DailyMail.com that another issue Congress should look into is the fact that the Pentagon never procured a ‘fully licensed’ vaccine that the agency demanded in an August 2021 Sec. Lloyd Austin on the mandate.
He says that while he appreciates Banks’ efforts, they need to be expanded.
There won’t be a perfect remedy, but at least Congress should authorize fired service members to improve their ‘discharge characterizations, reinstate their educational benefits, and be awarded involuntary separation pay and/or retire in their grade and years of service. service it came out on,’ the officer told DailyMail.com.
He said the fired soldiers have had “their lives turned upside down and were betrayed by those tasked with protecting them.”
Finally, a formal apology from its service branches would be key to regain trust, he added.