The Army is “immediately” beginning involuntary discharges for active duty troops who have refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The message instructs commands to “process these separations...as expeditiously as possible.”
As of Jan. 26, 3,350 active duty soldiers haverefused the vaccine, and 3,619 more requests for religious or medical exemptions remain pending. The service has not yet approved any religious accommodations for the shot, and has authorized six medical exemptions.
Enlisted soldiers refusing the shot will receive an involuntary discharge for “commission of a serious offense." Officers who refused the vaccine have until March to resign rather than face separation proceedings, the directive said.
Soldiers eligible to retire on or before July 1 will “be permitted to retire...through expedited process” rather than be kicked out, according to the directive.
The directive confirmed that the Army will comply with a measure in the fiscal 2022 defense policy bill that barred the services from issuing other-than-honorable discharges solely for vaccine refusal.
“All soldiers, including those in an entry-level status, who are refusing to become vaccinated will be issued either an Honorable or General (under honorable conditions)” discharge, the directive said. But it cautioned that troops with “additional misconduct” may receive an other-than-honorable discharge.
Even a general discharge under honorable conditions would impact the post-service benefits available to troops who refused the vaccine. Soldiers with a general discharge are ineligible for the GI Bill, according to the VA website, but they are eligible for other benefits like disability pay.
The directive said that soldiers separated will be ineligible for involuntary separation pay “and may be subject to termination and recoupment” of bonuses and special pays."